Workers Health & Safety Centre

Workplace violence growing in education sector, study finds

Workplace violence growing in education sector, study finds
A growing body of evidence suggests violence against teachers, educational assistants and others in the education sector is escalating.  
 
The most recent study, undertaken by Toronto-based Institute for Work and Health (IWH), found violence-related lost-time injury claims for education sector workers rose by four per cent for men and seven per cent for women over a 14-year study period ending in 2015.
 
Women in this sector were particularly vulnerable, suffering lost-time injuries from violence and aggression at eight times the rate of men and women in other sectors. Though, male education sector workers also suffered lost-time injuries in greater numbers, at twice the rate of other sectors.    
 
This IWH study also reported lost-time injury rates due to violence and aggression for male and female health care workers far exceeded those in other sectors.
 
Further, an examination of Ontario hospital emergency department visits for a similar period found a rising number of female workers overall sought treatment for injuries attributed to workplace violence. 

Claim suppression

Over the course of the study period, in raw numbers, just under 30,000 lost-time claims for injuries sustained as a result of workplace violence or aggression were registered with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Meantime, more than 13,000 workers sought treatment for injuries attributed to workplace violence at emergency departments.
 
Authors of the study acknowledge these numbers fall far short of “self-reported” workplace violence incidents. Polling of workers in the education and health care sector paints a troubling picture of suffering and significant underreporting—some driven by fear. 
 
recent poll of Ontario elementary teachers, for instance, found seven in 10 have personally experienced violence and witnessed violence against another staff person. This poll was conducted by the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario which represents 83,000 teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals employed in Ontario’s public elementary schools. Thus the poll suggests more than 58,000 education workers are victims or have been exposed to violence at work. Almost 40 per cent of those polled also report suffering mental stress, physical injury or illness as a result of workplace violence.
 
Many polled reported being told not to report the incident, or chose not to report, for fear of repercussions. Fifty per cent of those who reported an incident say there was no follow-up or investigation “in all cases” or “in some cases.” Even when actions were taken by school administrators to prevent recurrence, most polled said the actions were ineffective.
 
Another recent poll of Ontario Catholic teachers (elementary and high school) conducted by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, found teachers were suffering similarly, with 60 per cent personally experiencing violence. This violence led almost 60 per cent of these teachers to suffer significant psychological stress while 40 per cent suffered physical harm. Many were encouraged or pressured by administrators to not fill out report forms or report the incident to police.
 
Studies are also finding health care workers are reporting violence at rates similar to those in education. A report authored by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions in 2017 found 61 per cent of Canadian nurses surveyed say they have experienced abuse, harassment or assault in the workplace in the past 12 months. Here in Ontario, 54 per cent reported having experienced physical abuse; 85 per cent experienced verbal abuse, and 19 per cent experienced sexual violence or abuse.

Legal obligations

All Ontario employers have significant legal obligations to address workplace violence and harassment. Chief among these duties is for employers to develop and implement workplace violence and harassment policies and program(s). To this end, the employer must also provide all workers with information and instruction on the content of these policies and related measures. On the basis of recent findings from IWH and others, some are suggesting it is time to develop a standard for workplace violence training, much in the way a standard was developed to combat worker injury and death from working at heights. In such a way, a minimum level of quality is ensured.
 
For our part, the Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) offers a range of resources and a three-hour Workplace Violence and Harassment Prevention Training program designed to help workplace parties better understand workplace violence, harassment and bullying and to fully comply with legal obligations. We also offer training programs to help employers meet the training and competency requirements for supervisorsjoint committee members and worker health and safety representatives, who all play essential roles in the pursuit of healthier and safer workplaces.

To learn more:
Call:    1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak with a training service representative
Visit:   www.whsc.on.ca
Email: contactus@whsc.on.ca