Union launches safe workplace campaign

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A major Ontario union launched a workplace safety campaign earlier this week in a move representatives say could end up saving somebody’s life.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union says violent attacks are on the rise at Waypoint Centre for Mental Health but claims management is ignoring safety concerns.

"I've been punched so hard I was knocked unconscious and suffered a brain bleed," says one employee, while another claims a patient threw boiling water in a co-workers face.

Now, the union had rolled out a series of radio and print ads in a bid to raise awareness.
"This campaign could actually help save someone's life," said OPSEU Local 329 President Pete Sheehan. "We are hoping to send a strong message to our management, the Premier, the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care that we simply cannot and should not wait until someone gets killed before something is done to make our workplace safer."

According to OPSEU, one of the key areas of concern comes down to building structure – the facility was initially constructed as a general hospital, so the walls of the patient rooms are made of drywall.

Now, the building is home to many patients who have committed serious crimes but have been deemed not criminally responsible or unfit to stand trial by the courts – some have been able to break down parts of the drywall and use building materials to make weapons.

In addition, there have been numerous incidents of security equipment malfunctioning.
Despite facing criticism from the union, Waypoint Centre has welcomed the campaign and agreed safety is paramount for both patients and staff.

“Safety is a priority in our Strategic Plan, and patient and staff safety is taken very seriously at the hospital,” the organization said in an email to HRM. “This campaign is another opportunity for us to have conversations about safety with everyone at Waypoint.”

It also said it was aware of the issues brought forward by OPSEU and promised it was working through each item presented to respond and determine best practice.

“Severe behaviours associated with mental illness are prevalent in our work and we have specialized safety procedures, treatment and care plans in place to support staff and patients in responding to risks,” a Waypoint representative said.

“Workplace safety is embedded in our health and safety policies and regularly monitored and evaluated,” they stressed. “Plans are in place across our hospital for employee safety whether it is on a unit or for individuals working more independently.

“All hospital programs participate in yearly workplace violence risk assessments, and regular safety huddles and discussions are conducted on all clinical programs.”
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