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Prince George library staff facing ‘frequent and undue levels of violence,’ WorkSafeBC finds

An investigation was launched after workers refused to work in unsafe conditions, following an incident in the library bathrooms.
Library 2
An empty malt liquor can lies on the grass across from the Prince George Public Library's Bob Harkins branch on July 13.

WorkSafeBC inspections conducted in May and June found that Prince George Public Library staff, including management and security personnel, were at risk of violence and exposure to biological and drug-related chemical hazards.

The initial WorkSafeBC inspections at the Bob Harkins branch of the library on May 4 and May 10 were prompted after one or more workers refused to work in unsafe conditions, following an incident in the library bathrooms on April 26.

“Based upon my review of the employer's 2022 incident reports, I note that workers are exposed to frequent and undue levels of violence at this workplace. Nine incidences of violence have been recorded,” occupational safety officer Steven Goodall wrote in his May 10 report. “When I asked if the refusal of unsafe work was ongoing, a worker provided a statement that the security personnel were not conducting work relating to the washrooms at the workplace, and that management personnel had assumed the responsibilities of attending the washrooms for 'wellness checks.’”

In his May 10 report, Goodall ordered the library to provide vaccination for hepatitis B to all workers at risk of occupational exposure, and provide workers training on the safe handling of biohazardous and chemical dangers. Goodall ordered the library to prepare a compliance report by June 7, to show it has established “procedures, policies and work environment arrangements” to eliminate, or at least reduce, the risk of violence to workers.

“The employer is not doing everything reasonable to prevent undue worker exposure to violence or hazardous exposure at this workplace,” Goodall wrote.

BODY ARMOUR, CAMERAS, RADIOS, TRAINING AND MORE SECURITY ADDED

In a follow-up report on June 15, Goodall determined the library had complied with all the orders.

In addition to offering hepatitis vaccines to staff, library security employees, 15 frontline workers and four managers had received training in bloodborne pathogen safety. The library’s security employees were provided with violence prevention and de-escalation training, and two library managers were provided with basic security training, Goodall wrote.

The report also outlined measures the library had taken since May 2021 to address workplace violence, including issuing stab-resistant vests to security officers in July 2021; portable radios with earpieces to security, staff and frontline workers in June 2021; installing security cameras in the library entrance in December 2021; and updating the library’s security and bathroom access policy following the April 26 incident.

“The secured access procedure for the public washrooms implemented in August of 2021 was updated as of April 27, 2022. Although the secured access method did make it easier to connect substance use to specific members of the public, it also led to increased risk of violence to staff from attempts to intervene to suspend patrons and enforce the requirement to leave the library premises,” Goodall wrote in his June 15 report. “In order to reduce the number of staff-customer interactions in and around this area, the public washrooms will remain unlocked and security staff and management team members will periodically inspect washrooms to ensure they are safe to enter.”

A second WorkSafeBC inspection on July 6 found that library staff had not been properly trained, “in how to identify suspected inhalable substance use in the washroom areas of this workplace,” and that lack of training puts workers at risk, occupational hygiene officer Peter Fairman wrote in a July 11 report.

Fairman ordered the library to provide proof that staff has received safety training on how to identify potential inhalable substance use and protect themselves, and to update the library’s public bathroom policy to warn workers about the potential hazard by Aug. 11.

‘WE ARE DOING EVERYTHING WE CAN’

Prince George library director Paul Burry said the library takes the safety and security of staff and patrons seriously, and has been making continuous improvements to address concerns.

The library has been working with WorkSafeBC and the library’s health and safety committee - which includes members of management and staff – for more than a year to address safety issues at the library, he said. The library has also hired a security consultant to provide an outside view on what improvements can be made.

“It is our belief that the library is a safe place for staff and patrons,” Burry said. “I feel like we’ve dealt with a number of the weaknesses that we felt could be improved.”

Improving staff and patron safety is an ongoing process and the library is dealing with many of the same societal issues that are challenging other organizations in Prince George and across North America, he said.

“We are doing everything we can to make the library as safe as possible,” he said. “(But) you can’t eliminate the risk altogether.”

Also, he said, one of the library’s core values is being a welcoming and inclusive place for everyone, and making public washrooms available is an important service for those who may not have other places to go.

“Our rules and conduct are based on behaviour and we don’t exclude people based on how they look,” Burry said. “We have to do what we can, but it still has to be a inclusive and welcoming space.”

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