Written by Dave Lundy, Health and Safety Coordinator at OPSEU Head Office
“Where’s the reporter? I want to speak to her. Today is my first day back to work, after being off sick, recovering from a violent physical assault.” Such is the frustration and genuine fear that our front line mental health care workers face they are no longer willing to suffer in silence. Instead, on Wednesday November 2nd staff took it to the street at CAMH to demonstrate that they no longer are going to suffer workplace violence in silence. They are no longer going to tolerate a management attitude that violent assault is simply part of the job.
When over four dozen workers gather to stand on a street corner and proclaim to the public that the exploding epidemic of institutional violence that they are expected to endure can be endured no longer, the public should realize that our mental health system is at its breaking point. CAMH workers were joined across the province at other mental health care sites through sister demonstrations. Decades of underfunding, staff cut backs, crumbling infrastructure, and ever-increasing patient demands are overwhelming health care providers. Heightened levels of violence are leaving staff afraid for their lives, fearful that they or one of their co-workers will not survive their shift to return home to their families! It is an increasingly desperate situation.
Workers are fearful not just for themselves but for vulnerable patients as well. Ask any of these dedicated professionals, most of the people they work with are far more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else. In fact, many of the patients they serve come their way as a result of being preyed upon. Yet for too many patients, the facilities they attend to seek treatment from can become the scene of further trauma. It’s inexcusable.
Yet management simply refuses to treat this epidemic of violence with the seriousness it deserves. Decades of government austerity has resulted, not just in the crises of understaffing and crumbling infrastructure mentioned above, it has also resulted in the replacement of the former clinical staff managers with accountants and business managers. Bean counters should not be running our hospitals, because they prioritize counting the dollars not treating the patients.
One of the most telling statements captured at today’s demo was recorded by a diligent reporter when that reporter asked a management spokeswoman if she would accept the level of violence that today’s frontline staff are subjected to. The manager replied, “I get it. But this is a hospital.” A more revealing statement of heartbreaking ignorance would be impossible to utter.
Obviously management does not get it! As workers we can support each other by reporting ALL incidents verbally and in writing to your Supervisor and to your Health and Safety representative. Then, in the following shifts, follow-up with your managers and demand proactive responses from them. Involve your Joint Health and Safety Committee, (JHSC). Section 25 2(h) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) states that employers “must take all reasonable precautions for the protection of workers.” By recording and raising each incidence of workplace violence you witness or are subjected to, you are taking a giant step towards taking control of your workplace and forcing management to confront and deal with the issue of workplace violence. An episode of workplace violence not recorded is, for the bean counters in charge, an episode that did not happen. When you record these incidents you are building an irrefutable history which you, your co-workers, the JHSC and your union can build on to ensure that together we can work towards violence free- workplaces. When we are safe our clients will be as well.
We have our work cut out for us as we mobilize to educate what seems to be deliberately obstructionist managers. That in no instance is workplace violence to be tolerated! Working together we can reach our goal.