Front-Line Nurses Left Unprotected from Violence: ONA says it’s time to invest in prevention instead of legal fees and fines

August 17, 2017

BROCKVILLE – Following the levy of a $75,000 fine against the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre for failing to reassess the risk of violence after a registered nurse was repeatedly stabbed and critically injured at its Brockville site, the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) says the province needs to invest in taking proactive measures to keep nurses safe.

“Let’s stop wasting taxpayers’ money in legal fees and fines where employers such as this one fail in their duties,” said ONA Region 2 Vice-President Cathryn Hoy, RN, “and instead make them invest in the measures proven to make a difference. ONA was deeply disappointed when Justice Richard Knott dismissed three of the four charges against this employer, and while the $75,000 fine is substantial, it will not change this employer’s behaviour.”

ONA believes the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care should invest in safe staffing levels, training health-care managers about their day-to-day safety obligations, invest in authentic occupational health and safety cultures and systems, instead of sending the message that health-care employers will not really be held accountable under the Occupational Health and Safety Act for failing to keep their workers safe.

“Judge Knott gets some credit for upping the ante of non-compliance with this substantial fine,” says Hoy. “However, this case made it clear that the court does not understand the very limited right to refuse unsafe work of registered nurses.

The written court decision in this case “appears to suggest that nurses, not the employer, are responsible for their own safety,” she says. “Despite specifying that the risk of violence in the unit where our RN was stabled multiple times ‘is as high or higher than almost anywhere imaginable for nurses,’ the judge cited ‘employee responsibilities to use reasonable precautions…and be vigilant for the potential for violence.’ The decision points out that ‘no one refused to work with the patient’’ as important information for dismissing four out of five charges. Clearly, the court system is unaware of the extensive regulatory requirements of RNs that limit their ability to refuse to care for their patients, nor the commitment we have as regulated professionals in caring for our patients.”

According to Workplace Safety and Insurance Board statistics, Ontario health-care workers are 68 times more likely to be physically injured from violent attacks than miners and construction workers.

“The late-Justice Archie Campbell noted that health-care workplaces are as dangerous as mines and factories,” said Hoy. “In his post-SARS report, he emphasized that health-care employer systems for protecting workers fall short of industrial health and safety systems. Nurses should have the same expectation of legal protection from workplace harm and not have to fear for their lives while providing the quality care our patients need and deserve.”

ONA is the union representing 64,000 registered nurses and health-care professionals, as well as almost 16,000 nursing student affiliates, providing care in hospitals, long-term care facilities, public health, the community, clinics and industry.

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For more information: Ontario Nurses’ Association

Sheree Bond (416) 964-8833, ext. 2430; cell: (416) 986-8240; [email protected]
Melanie Levenson (416) 964-8833, ext. 2369; [email protected]