University investigated for not having a violence prevention policy

Union leaders at Brandon University file complaint with province

University investigated for not having a violence prevention policy

Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health is investigating Brandon University because it allegedly does not have a violence prevention policy, which has been a requirement in the province since 2011.

Gautam Srivastava is the faculty association president and says there were a series of safety incidents in the first half of 2021 that alerted the union to the fact the school did not have a violence prevention policy. He says school administration conducted a gap analysis at the time, and now at the end of 2022, a policy still does not exist.

“And as a union, we had an executive meeting in the middle of November, where we voted to raise the alarm with the authorities in Manitoba that no such policy exists,” says Srivastava.

He says there have also been recent incidents in which staff and students have been subjected to threats of violence. Srivastava says because the campus is located close to the downtown core in the city of Brandon, the homeless often use the school to seek shelter.

“Doors are open during working hours, it's getting colder in Manitoba, there's just more reasons for situations where such a policy and violence prevention in general, need to be handled by our employer.”

The communications director for the school, Grant Hamilton, tells the Canadian Press BU has a wide variety of overlapping policies that deal with appropriate behaviour on school grounds.

“We have developed a standalone violence prevention policy and have a full draft that is ready for approval. This policy will streamline and help guide our response to any incidents of violence,'' Hamilton said in an email.

That document was presented at the presidents advisory committee meeting but can’t be formally approved and implemented until the new year. Srivastava would like to see the policy used in the interim and says he did have a conversation with senior administrators about that idea.

“They did indicate that they would, at some point in the near future, post the violence prevention policy as a draft so that it can be relied on till it is actually approved. However, that has not occurred yet.”

In an email to Canadian Occupational Safety a spokesperson for the province says a policy “must contain a description of the locations or tasks where violence has or could reasonably occur, the measures taken to control the risk if it is not possible to eliminate it, and the mechanism for summoning immediate assistance.”

The Winnipeg Free Press filed a freedom of information request and learned the school has installed 33 panic buttons or switches over the past five years, bringing the total number of active panic buttons to 40.

As the province conducts its investigation, it says there could be fines.

“As with any contravention, a safety and health officer may issue an improvement order requiring the issue to be remedied within the timeframe specified in the order. Failing to comply with an order by the compliance date may result in further enforcement activity, including penalties ranging between $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the type and frequency of the violation.”

School administrators may want to act on implementing a draft policy before it can be formally approved.