Workers Health & Safety Centre

Workplace stabbing conviction reignites calls for preventive action

Workplace stabbing conviction reignites calls for preventive action
An Eastern Ontario health care provider has been fined $75,000 after a nurse was stabbed in the head and neck by a patient with a long history of mental illness and violence.
 
The October 10, 2014 assault took place at the Brockville Mental Health Centre. The nurse had escorted the patient to the washroom. Upon exiting the washroom the patient stabbed the nurse multiple times with a pen. This same patient was responsible for a number of additional staff assaults between August and October 2014. 
 
Royal Ottawa Health Care Group, which operates the Brockville Mental Health Centre and other mental health care and research facilities, was found guilty of just one of five charges laid over the incident. According to a Ministry of Labour (MOL) press release, the court held the defendant had an obligation to reassess the risk of workplace violence and eliminate the attacks on staff. 
 

Decision sends misguided message  

The Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), which represents the nurse in this case and many more who face the risk of violence every day in health care facilities across the province, is less than satisfied with the court decision.
 
In a recent press release, Cathryn Hoy, Registered Nurse and ONA Region 2 Vice-President representing Eastern Ontario, offered, “The written court decision in this case appears to suggest that nurses, not the employer, are responsible for their own safety.”
 
As if to explain why four out of five charges were dismissed, the decision observed “no one refused to work with the patient.’’ Hoy responded, “Clearly, the court system is unaware of the extensive regulatory requirements of RNs that limit their ability to refuse to care for their patients, nor the commitment we have as regulated professionals in caring for our patients.”
 
“Let’s stop wasting taxpayers’ money in legal fees and fines where employers such as this one fail in their duties and instead make them invest in the measures proven to make a difference,” said Hoy.
 

Government report not yet acted upon

Many of these measures are outlined in a report published in May by the Ontario government and endorsed by the Workplace Violence Prevention in Health Care Leadership Table
 
“The government and health care leaders must act immediately on these recommendations,” says Warren “Smokey” Thomas, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) president who sits, along with ONA president Linda Haslam-Stroud, on the Leadership Table. “We don’t have time to waste; we’ve got solutions now, and we need action now.”
 
Both ONA and OPSEU also continue to call on the government to invest in safe staffing levels—something not included in the government report. “The fact that the province won’t commit to mandatory minimum requirements is problematic and dangerous,” says Thomas.
 

WHSC training and resources can help

For our part, the Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) offers a range of resources including a three-hour Workplace Violence and Harassment Prevention Training program designed to help workplace parties better understand workplace violence, harassment and bullying and to fully comply with legal obligations.

Want to know more about this case and the related issues?
MOL press release
ONA press release
OPSEU press release
Limited right to refuse work for some health care workers
 
Want to access WHSC violence and harassment resources and other related news items?
WHSC workplace violence and harassment resources
Workplace abuse in health care a growing and costly issue, says Nurses’ Union
Report establishes blueprint for violence prevention in health care sector

To learn more:
Visit:    www.whsc.on.ca 
Email:  contactus@whsc.on.ca
Call:    1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a training services representative