Canadian Pizza Magazine

Violence in the workplace

By Canadian Pizza   

Features Business and Operations Staffing

What is workplace violence?

Most people think of violence as a physical assault. However, workplace violence is a much broader problem.

What is workplace violence?

Most people think of violence as a physical assault. However, workplace violence is a much broader problem.

It is any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated or assaulted in his or her employment. Workplace violence is not limited to incidents that occur within a traditional workplace. Work-related violence can occur at off-site business-related functions (conferences, trade shows), at social events related to work, in clients’ homes or away from work but resulting from work.


Certain work factors, processes, and interactions can put people at increased risk from workplace violence, such as working with the public, handling money, valuables or prescription drugs (e.g. cashiers, pharmacists) or working in premises where alcohol is served.

Also to be considered are situations where employees are working alone, in small numbers or in isolated or low-traffic areas, or even having a mobile workplace (delivery personnel).

Risk of violence may be greater at certain times of day, night or year; for example: late hours of the night or early hours of the morning, Christmas, pay day or performance appraisals.

The risk of violence may increase depending on the geographic location of the workplace. For example, if the workplace is near buildings or businesses that are at risk of violent crime (e.g. bars, banks) or is in an area that is isolated from other buildings or structures.

Look for trends and identify the occupations and locations that you believe are most at risk. Record the results of your assessment. Use this document to develop a prevention program with specific recommendations for reducing the risk of violence within your workplace.

The most important component of any workplace violence prevention program is management commitment. Management commitment is best communicated in a written policy. The policy must be developed by management and employee representatives and apply to management, employees, clients, independent contractors and anyone who has a relationship with your company.

A written policy will inform employees about what behaviour management considers inappropriate and unacceptable in the workplace, what to do when incidents covered by the policy occur and contacts for reporting any incidents.

It will also encourage employees to report such incidents and will show that management is committed to dealing with incidents involving violence, harassment and other unacceptable behaviour. Some employers caring to exceed “minimum” requirements in legislation include “personal harassment” in their anti-harassment policies. Personal harassment does fall under the definition of harassment – unwelcome behaviour that demeans, embarrasses, or humiliates a person; however, it is not covered by human rights legislation dealing with harassment related to race, ethnic origin, religion, sex, etc.

Workplace design considers factors such as workplace layout, use of signs, locks or physical barriers, lighting, and electronic surveillance. Building security is one instance where workplace design issues are very important. For example, you should consider positioning the reception area or sales or service counter so that it is visible to fellow employees or members of the public passing by, or positioning office furniture so that the employee is closer to a door or exit than the client and so that the employee cannot be cornered.

Other security aspects to be considered might include:
•    Installing physical barriers, e.g. pass-through windows or bulletproof enclosures.
•    Minimizing the number of entrances to your workplace.
•    Using coded cards or keys to control access to the building or certain areas within the building.
•    Using adequate exterior lighting around the workplace and near entrances.
•    Strategically placing fences to control access to the workplace.
Administrative practices are decisions you make about how you do business. For example, certain administrative practices can reduce the risks involved in handling cash. You should consider:

  • Keeping cash register funds to a minimum.
  • Using electronic payment systems to reduce the amount of cash available.
  • Varying the time of day that you empty or reduce funds in the cash register.
  • Installing and using a locked drop safe.

People who work away from a traditional office setting can adopt many different work practices that will reduce their risk. For example:

  • Prepare a daily work plan so that you and others know where and when you are expected somewhere.
  • Identify a designated contact at the office and a backup.
  • Keep your designated contact informed of your location and consistently adhere to the call-in schedule.
  • Use the “buddy system,” especially when you feel your personal safety may be threatened.
  • Do not enter any situation or location where you feel threatened or unsafe.

Most Canadian jurisdictions have a “general duty provision” in their Occupational Health & Safety legislation, which requires employers to take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of employees. More information on this topic is available in the OSH Answers document OH&S Legislation – Due Diligence. This provision would include protecting employees from a known risk of workplace violence.

British Columbia and Saskatchewan have specific workplace violence prevention regulations. Nova Scotia has draft workplace violence regulations. Manitoba has the “Workers Working Alone Regulation,” which applies to victimization through criminal violence.

British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Canada (federal) either mention or have specific workplace violence prevention regulations. Nova Scotia has “violence in the workplace” guidelines. Manitoba has the “Workers Working Alone Regulation” which applies to victimization through criminal violence. Quebec has legislation regarding “psychological harassment,” which may include forms of violence. Other provinces also have working alone regulations that may have some implications for workplace violence. Contact your local authorities to find out more about the specific laws applicable to violence in your jurisdiction.

Reprinted with the permission of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), 135 Hunter Street East, Hamilton, Ontario L8N 1M5; Tel: (905) 572-4400; Toll free 1-800-263-8468; e-mail: If you need more information, please contact OSSA at 1-888-478-6772.

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