Teachers and Violence in the Workplace
Part 27 of the Occupational Health and Safety Code identifies violence as a workplace hazard, and it is defined as “the threatened, attempted or actual conduct of a person that causes or is likely to cause physical injury.”
Examples of workplace violence follow
· threatening behaviour such as shaking fists, destroying property or throwing objects;
· verbal or written threats (any expression of intent to cause harm); and
· physical attacks such as hitting, shoving, pushing or kicking.
Teachers may face violence while at work in various ways. Unfortunately, it is becoming common for teachers to experience violence when dealing with students who have behavioural difficulties. Teachers may also face violence from parents, colleagues and members of the public, and by being in close proximity to an altercation between other people.
The first step is to ensure that violence is recognized as a hazard on the hazard assessment. It is important to note that the potential behaviour is the hazard, not a specific person. A hazard assessment applies to the entire work site, not just a classroom or a situation where a student with violent behaviour has been identified. It is also possible that in a work site where no student with violent behaviour has been identified, that work site may experience a violent event, and that possibility must be noted on a hazard assessment.
When a hazard is observed, the teacher must evaluate their own risk regarding the potential frequency exposure to the hazard as well as the potential severity of any injury as a result of the hazard. This level of risk may be different for each individual teacher depending on their circumstance and assignment.
Like many workplace hazards, elimination is ideal but may not be possible. Therefore, controls must be identified and implemented to mitigate the risk associated with the hazard to the highest degree possible. Hazard assessments and the identification of controls require participation by all work site parties affected by the hazard.
The first choice of these controls is to engineer the workplace to isolate people from the hazard. For example, school doors are often locked, and visitors must check in at the office. In a classroom, the configuration of furniture and placement of the teacher’s desk and workspace should reduce a student’s ability to aggressively approach the teacher.
If the hazard cannot be controlled by engineering alone, adding administrative controls is the next choice. This involves changing how people work and implementing procedures. When working with a student with behavioural challenges, many of the administrative controls should be found in the student’s behaviour support plan. This may include a process for intervention from administration or the student’s parents.
Finally, if the hazard is still not controlled, personal protective equipment is added to the suite of controls in place. This includes any equipment that would act as a barrier between the teacher and the student so that if the student becomes aggressive, injury to the teacher would be unlikely.
Often, hazards are controlled by a combination of engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipment. If a teacher believes that the hazards are not being adequately controlled, they should contact Teacher Employment Services (TES) for advice (1‑800‑232‑7208).
Everyone at the school must follow the protocols put in place to control identified hazards. As well, any concerns about unsafe conditions or controls that are not working or not being followed must be promptly communicated to the principal. This can result in a review of the hazard assessment and a modification of the controls in place, helping to ensure the health and safety of everyone at the school.
Teachers can provide health and safety feedback to the principal at any time. Promptly report an unhealthy or unsafe condition, including violence, at the school. If you have suggestions for improving safety, let the principal know that you would like to discuss these matters at a health and safety committee meeting. #WEAREATA
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