No doubt you heard, read or were
emailed about the horrific incident of workplace violence that took
place in Virginia just two weeks ago. Tragically, Reporter
Allison Parker and her cameraman, Adam Ward, were shot and killed
by a former co-worker. Later, it was learned that the gunman,
Vester Flanagan, was fired in 2013 for "anger management
issues", and that he had been let go from previous employers
for similar reasons.
The incident, as most tragedies do,
has prompted some to wonder if it could have been prevented; it
also serves as a reminder that workplace violence is a real risk
and that all employers should be vigilant not only to comply with
legislative requirements under the Occupational Health and
Safety Act ("OHSA") but also to ensure your
In this most recent tragedy, we
have learned that Mr. Flanagan, while still an employee, made
claims of racism and discrimination (Mr. Flanagan identified as a
gay black man) that the employer deemed unfounded. However,
they only did so after a thorough investigation. In addition,
while Mr. Flanagan's various acts of misconduct were
documented, his employer not only gave him opportunities to improve
his behaviour but also required him to seek help through the
employee assistance program. Further, when he was ultimately
let go, the employer had police escort him out the door and then
maintained a police presence for two days after the termination by
having an off-duty police officer on site almost around the
All of these measures demonstrate
that the TV station was vigilant and did make significant efforts
to protect against what it obviously recognized as a risk;
unfortunately, the access to its personnel in a public space,
coupled with the fact that this was two years after Mr.
Flanagan's termination, made this almost impossible to
Fortunately, most employers have
much more control over access to their work sites, and, therefore,
employees can be more confident in their safety. But just
because you conducted an initial risk assessment and established
policies and programs to address workplace violence – as the
OHSA required you to do with the coming-into-force of the Bill 168
amendments in 2010 – doesn't mean your job is done.
There is an OHSA requirement that the risk(s) of workplace violence
be reviewed or reassessed "as often as necessary": a
period which we advise is at least annually, or whenever an
incident of violence occurs. In addition, we recommend that
employers review or reassess their own workplace violence risks
whenever they learn of incidents of workplace violence taking place
in circumstances similar to their own – similar in physical
setup, similar in the work done or services provided, or similar in
any other characteristic that an employer may deem relevant.
While we don't wish to
sensationalize this latest workplace tragedy, it serves as an
unfortunate reminder of the need for the legislative requirements
that exist – in Canadian jurisdictions and elsewhere –
to prevent and minimize workplace violence and its tragic
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about your specific circumstances.
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