Lynn Orzel believes “it’s only a matter of time.”
It’s only a matter of time before legislation is passed in Ontario that will put an end to the devastation of physical assaults and verbal abuse in the workplace. “Bill 168 is inching forward,” says Orzel. “But what we need next is a stand-alone regulation to give the law more teeth.”
Orzel knows a lot about workplace violence. A social worker for the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) in Ottawa, Orzel has spent the last 20 years protecting her clients, her co-workers and herself from potentially volatile situations.
A member of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 454, Orzel has always had a keen interest in health and safety. When she began questioning her local on workplace violence, they offered her a position on the joint health and safety committee (JHSC). Arming herself with Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) courses such as the Level I
, Level II Law
, Basic Certification
and many others, it wasn’t long before Orzel became the worker co-chair and certified member. In 2003, she became a WHSC-qualified instructor. She has delivered health and safety training ever since.
“I especially like to deliver the 30-hour Level I
Program. For many participants it is their first real taste of health and safety. I like to get them energized about their rights and crank them into activists. It’s exciting to watch,” says Orzel. And watch she does. Long after a training course ends, Orzel stays in touch with the participants, to offer support and see how they are faring in the workplace.
Now an elected member of OPSEU’s Executive Board, Orzel has spent the last two years representing 23,000 members in Region 4 (Eastern Ontario). She is also the newly-appointed health and safety liaison between the Executive Board and OPSEU’s health and safety department.
“Lynn is hard working, energetic and well-respected. She has been very effective as our health and safety liaison, keeping the Executive Board abreast of the key issues affecting our members. This is beginning to produce positive results. We are proud to have her on our team,” says Lisa McCaskell, OPSEU senior health and safety officer.
Throughout her career with CAS, Orzel has worked in group homes, as a child protection investigator, and is currently on leave as a family support worker. As child protection workers, Orzel and her co-workers more often than not, arrived at the client’s home, alone and unprotected, not knowing what to expect. Once inside, their only protection, if trouble should arise, is to call the police. Sometimes this isn’t enough.
In 2004, Orzel and the worker committee members decided to do something about the violence. They sent a recommendation to the employer requesting a workplace violence assessment, policy and program, and training for CAS workers. Two years later when the employer had still not responded, Orzel called in the Ministry of Labour (MOL). The MOL in turn issued orders around training and education on workplace violence and despite the employer’s appeals the orders remained in place. OPSEU in turn used these precedent-setting orders to launch a violence campaign brought forward by Orzel.
“With the union’s help we secured training for all CAS workers in the province. The union also launched a series of educationals on how to successfully campaign against violence in their workplaces. This material has also been used by groups in other sectors,” Orzel explains.
Like the WHSC training Orzel delivers, this campaign has garnered positive results but there is still room for improvement. However, says Orzel, “With some adjustments and a regulation to back it, Bill 168 could be the solution we are seeking to this pervasive workplace hazard.”