Break the Silence! SEIU Healthcare’s Workplace Violence Committee Initiatives

Break the silence on workplace violence

“The healthcare worker cried help when she was hit by a resident while she gave a bath and fell while the resident continued hitting her head on the wall…”

A group of long-term care workers crafted this hypothetical scenario during a workshop with SEIU Healthcare last June 2015. Yet, for many of these healthcare workers, these kinds of scenarios are increasingly part of their regular routine at work.

The room ignited with conversation during the workshop as members shared their experiences with patients biting them, punching them, kicking them, families harassing them, berating them, blaming them and employers ignoring them, silencing them and dismissing them. Stories were also shared of their fellow employees telling them to “suck it up,” “shut up” and that it’s “just part of the job.”

At one point during the workshop, one woman piped up and said, “My daughter asks why I come home with bruises every day. I don’t know what to tell her.”

SEIU Healthcare has created a workplace violence committee to inform workers that violence is not “just part of the job” and in fact, it’s the law not to be part of your job.

The committee is dedicated to informing members of their legal right to a safe and violence-free workplace through a three-pronged approach of: education (through workshops), data collection (through a survey), and government relations (through policy work) to inform workers about their duty to report and their employer’s duty to create a safe working environment, under section 32 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). We also want to encourage members to share their story, and push for a culture within their workplace where their stories are respected and followed up on.

So far, since spring 2015, the workplace violence committee has facilitated 14 workshops in different facilities and have created four different educational modules to deliver, depending on how much time the employer allows and what issues need to be addressed in the workplace. The workshops cover a range of topics and answers questions like:

  • What is the law around workplace violence?
  • What is workplace violence?
  • What is horizontal violence?
  • Can I refuse work due to violence?
  • How can I exercise the law?
  • What are my responsibilities?
  • What are my employers’ responsibilities?
  • What are my supervisors’ responsibilities?
  • What is my duty to report?
  • How do I report a workplace violence incident?
  • Where can I find my employer’s workplace violence policy?
  • What is the WSIB process?
  • What safety infrastructure works in other healthcare facilities?
  • How can I push for greater safety infrastructure?

The workshops also include an interactive component where members are encouraged to share their own experiences, as part of the committee’s aim to “Break the Silence on Workplace Violence.”

Another way members share their story is through the workplace violence survey, which we also integrate into the workshops, by passing around iPads. The anonymous survey covers a four main areas:

  1. Your personal experience;
  2. Whether or not you reported an incident and why/why not;
  3. How your workplace is set up to deal with these incidents;
  4. Whether or not you would be willing to share your experience and if so, your contact information.

Already, we have received an overwhelming response from our members, both in how many people have responded and their shocking answers.

Of the 430 respondents, 85% (350 respondents) have experienced violence at work and 78% (320 respondents) have witnessed a co-worker experiencing violence.

Some of the more common types of violence experience include punching (54%, 210 respondents), verbal harassment (80%, 311 respondents), bullying (49%, 189 respondents), pushing (48%, 186 respondents), biting (43%, 167 respondents), and physical assault (36%, 140 respondents).

The less common forms of violence experienced are sexual assault (10%, 37 respondents), stalking (12%, 45 respondents), threatened with a weapon (12%, 46 respondents), sexual harassment (17%, 66 respondents). Even though these numbers are lower, the incidence rate is still shocking considering their severity.

As far as frequency of events, 28% (108 respondents) said they experienced workplace violence every day, 30% (116 respondents) said they experience it every month and 15% (58 respondents) said they experience it every month.

The committee is trying to communicate the idea that one incident is too many.

Along with gathering statistics, the survey is also designed to give workers space to tell their stories, either anonymously or by sharing their identity. Our aim as a committee, and as a union, is to use both these alarming statistics and haunting testimonials by workers to communicate to the government what needs to be done to stop workplace violence.

SEIU Healthcare is sitting at a government roundtable on workplace violence and some issues we will be pushing for include: a government-mandated flagging system for employers, enhanced language around training on workplace violence, more intensive Ministry of Labour (MOL) inspections, stronger legislation, and MOL oversight for homecare workers.

We want to make sure you go home safely every day. In order to do so, we need members to fill out the anonymous online survey about your experiences. Please let us know if you and your colleagues would benefit from a workshop on workplace violence, or have any input on what we should bring to the government roundtable. Together, we can break the silence on workplace violence.

Workplace violence survey


To read SEIU Healthcare's October 2015 submission to the WSIB on its newly proposed model, which may have big implications for healthcare workers, check out our blog post on it here

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