Pierre LeBrun's shooting rampage in an OC Transpo garage is one of Canada's best-known examples of workplace violence, and in more ways than one. Before he gunned down four of his former coworkers and...
Pierre LeBrun’s shooting rampage in an OC Transpo garage is one of Canada’s best-known examples of workplace violence, and in more ways than one. Before he gunned down four of his former coworkers and then shot himself, LeBrun had long complained about being taunted because of his speech impediment. In his mind, the psychological harassment justified the 1999 attack.
“It wasn’t a spontaneous act,” explains Glenn French, president of the Canadian Initiative on Workplace Violence.
Violence in the workplace can indeed take many forms, and a 1996 study by an international labour organization determined that Canada sits fourth in a worldwide ranking of the problem -even ahead of the US (although, that country’s employees are more likely to be killed in a work-related homicide).
“In Canada,” says French, “the face of violence is more indirect.”
Quebec has even included references to “psychological harassment” in its Labour Standards Act, drafting what could be considered as Canada’s first anti-bullying law.
Regardless of the form that the violence takes, however, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed for the well-being of your employees.
The Commission des Normes du Travail suggests as many as one in 10 Quebec workers have been subjected to bullying. And according to a 2003 survey by a group known as the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute, 76% of bullying victims suffered severe anxiety, while 71% suffered disrupted sleep. In 70% of cases, the bullying didn’t stop until the victim left the workplace.
Fleet employees are a key source of information to help identify potential risks, and a simple survey can reveal specific types of incidents that have occurred in your workplace during a set period of time. Even files relating to security reports and the application of first aid can help identify trends.
Once the potential threats are identified, fleets should draft policies that define acceptable conduct, French says, noting that provinces such as B. C. and Alberta actually require such policies under occupational health and safety laws.
An office environment can even be constructed to diffuse potential attacks. Furniture, for example, can offer an unofficial barrier between employees and angry customers, or dispatchers and drivers. And employees can be protected from other sources of violence with the addition of common security measures including mirrors and additional lighting to improve visibility.
Managers, meanwhile, should be trained to identify signs that violence is about to emerge, and learn to address low-risk situations.
One of the best ways to diffuse a tense confrontation is to identify that you recognize a person is upset, and establish a specific time when you will be able to hear them out, he says.
“You’re giving them a little bit of control, and you’re controlling the pace … you want to acknowledge the fact that someone has something important to say, even when you don’t like the way it’s being said.”
It’s difficult to draw the line between a simple argument and a sign of greater violence to come, French admits, but he suggests any threats should be taken seriously because of the unknown triggers that may be behind them. “You don’t know that their wife has just left them, their child has just died, they’re facing bankruptcy.”
And authorities should be called at the first sign of physical intimidation, he adds.
Victims of violence, meanwhile, need their own form of support after an attack has occurred, French says.
“The victim becomes quite intimidated, quite tongue-tied, quite upset.”That’s why it’s important to offer an “anchoring” statement that will help them explain how an issue is being addressed, so they know what to say when confronted with questions about what happened. “They can always retreat to [that] when they can’t think on their feet.”
The best defence against violence is simply to be prepared.
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