INDEPTH: WORKPLACE SAFETY|
Dying for a job
Health-care workers beware
CBC News Online | April 24, 2006
January 19, 2005. David Bland, a 62-year-old mental health worker, leaves the offices of the Richmond, B.C., Mental Health Team for the night. Just two more shifts stood between a job Bland held for 30 years and a life of retirement.
Dying for a job, is the result of three years of research. Journalists with CBC's Investigative Unit navigated freedom of information laws and negotiated for data from workplace safety insurance boards across Canada. The work allowed us to help track top national trends in the workplace of today.
This is the first time a Canadian media company has investigated workplace safety issues by analyzing Canada’s own data on a national level.
However, he didn't work those two shifts and never saw a pension cheque. He was stabbed to death in the building's underground parking lot.
Bland spent the latter part of his career as a vocational therapist, helping people prepare for jobs with community organizations and private companies.
Bland identified his attacker before he lost consciousness. A 49-year-old man who Bland had counselled was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. The attack came a week after a social worker was stabbed at a recreation centre in Saanich, B.C. One of his clients was later charged with attempted murder.
"These types of incidents are actually very rare and drawing any conclusions is not appropriate, especially when there's an investigation underway," Brenda Locke, B.C.'s mental health minister said at the time.
While deaths in the health-care industry might be rare, violence and threats of violence all too common. CBC News has been analysing data from workers' compensation boards across the country for the past few years. It shows that health-care workers are anywhere from five to 12 times more likely to file a worker's compensation claim for violence than workers in any other industry.
Risk of assault greater for health-care workers
|Workplace traumatic injury reports in health-care and social assistance workers in B.C. (2004)
|Reported on 4/21/2006
||Contact with objects and equipment
|Body reaction and exertion
|Exposure to harmful substances or environments
|Assaults and violent acts
|Unknown accident level 1
Detailed breakdown by province [pdf format]:
BC | NWT | AB | MB | ONT |
PQ | NB | NS| NL
In 2004 in B.C., health-care and social service workers filed 5,657 traumatic injury reports. While more than 60 per cent were related to accidents like falls and overexertion, 275 were the result of assaults and violent acts. Teachers filed a total of 1,865 compensation claims – 45 were for assaults and violent acts.
Cindy Stewart, president of the Health Science Association of British Columbia, the union that represents health-care workers, says the sector accounts for far more than its share of injuries.
"The health sector only makes up 10 per cent of the workforce," Stewart said. "Yet 40 per cent of the accepted WCB claims for violence come from health care. So it's the highest risk of violence and aggression sector in the entire workforce in B.C. including fire and police, and I think that's a surprise to people."
And those stats are only for incidents that are reported. Social worker Scott Elthinston was a colleague and close friend of David Bland. He told CBC News that many incidents go unreported.
"One of the clients that we worked with was admitted for a 30-day psych assessment … related to possession of a fire arm," Elthinson said. "He… wanted his medication changed and wanted the psychiatrist to adjust it… and when he heard that we couldn't he said that he was going to f***ing kill us. So that was really upsetting."
Elthinson said he conferred with a doctor and they decided that "the lesser of many evils was to leave it alone and…that hopefully it would just blow over." Pursuing it further, they concluded could further agitate the patient and increase the risk that he would act violently.
The numbers are similar across the country. In Alberta, there was an average of 170 incidents involving health-care and social assistance workers per year between 1995 and 2004. For all other occupations, the yearly average was 78 incidents.
In Ontario, the average over the same period for health-care and social assistance workers was 1,548. For all other occupations it was 881. The incidents resulted in an average of 34,765 lost days for health-care and social assistance workers and 21,243 lost days for other occupations. And that's just for claims involving violence against workers.
In Windsor, Ont., a doctor stabbed a nurse to death at Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital on Nov. 12, 2005. At one time, the two – who worked at the same hospital – had been a couple, but she ended the relationship. The nurse, Lori Dupont, complained that she was being harassed at work by the doctor, Marc Daniel, and that she feared for her safety. The hospital put them on different shifts and provided her with an escort to the parking lot.
A doctor stabbed a nurse to death at Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital in 2005 in Windsor, Ont. (CBC).
The hospital considered firing Daniel, but concluded there was not sufficient evidence to take action.
Dupont's family is suing the hospital, accusing officials of not adequately protecting her. The hospital initially denied it was a workplace safety issue, arguing it was an act of domestic violence. At the time of Dupont's murder, the hospital had yet to comply with a provincial order to enact violence-prevention policies and strategies to deal with abuse by patients.
The Ontario Nurses Association says if those had been in place they might have helped prevent Dupont's death.
"We can't wait for the next murder to take place to pique the ministry's interest or pique the public's interest as nurses and other employees are dying on the job," Linda Haslam-Stroud, president of the ONA, told CBC News.
Few regulations on violence in the workplace
Most provinces don't have regulations covering violence in the workplace. Saskatchewan and B.C. do. They allow the province to ensure safety audits are done, which could show, for example, if a parking lot is secure. That wasn't the case with David Bland. Regulations can also ensure that violent incidents are reported and that occupational health and safety committees meet regularly.
Regulations aimed at dealing with violence in the workplace and zero tolerance for workplace violence were among the key recommendations from a coroner's inquest into the shooting deaths of four Ottawa transit employees in April 1999.
"It's an organization that talks about work-life balance but the only people who get ahead in the organization have absolutely no balance
We're paying a significant price."
Linda Duxbury, professor of management at Carleton University.
A former employee, who complained he had been harassed at work because of his stutter, walked into a bus garage and opened fire on his former co-workers before turning his gun on himself.
At the inquest a year later, employees described the atmosphere at work as "poisoned." The company made some changes after the inquest. It created zero-tolerance polices, a "Let's Talk" program for employees and management and trained everyone on how to create a respectful workplace.
But there are signs the lessons learned haven't stuck. A 2003 city of Ottawa survey evaluated the "respectful workplace" training course for employees. The report found "hot spots" still existed.
A 2004 survey conducted by Carleton University found that OC Transpo's work environment was being negatively affected because employees felt the workplace is unsafe, there are poor employee-management relationships and poor co-worker relationships. And two former female OC workers are suing the city of Ottawa for ignoring their complaints of sexual harassment by a male co-worker.
Linda Duxbury says there's a toxic workplace culture at most Canadian organizations. The professor of management and her colleagues at Carleton University have surveyed tens of thousands of Canadians at work over the past 15 years. The team's latest research, published by Statistics Canada, suggests Canadian workers are suffering because their employers have created dysfunctional workplaces.
"It's an organization that talks about work-life balance but the only people who get ahead in the organization have absolutely no balance. The kind of organization, which promotes people who are quite frankly jerks. We're paying a significant price."
Duxbury says when she first started surveying workers, 42 per cent of them said they were stressed. Her latest report says that number has shot up to 60 per cent. It's extremely rare for a worker's compensation board to approve an injury claim based on stress.
The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety estimates that stress-related injuries cost the Canadian economy at least $16 billion a year.
|Provincial WCB claims related to violence: Analysis of the health-care industry
|Ratio of claims for violence in healthcare vs. other using % total claims
||4.7 to 1
||6.1 to 1
||11.5 to 1
||10.6 to 1
||6.4 to 1
||3.7 to 1
||6.5 to 1
||10.2 to 1
||9.1 to 1