Workplace violence in schools

Asking the right questions

A photo of hands typing on a laptop with the words, from the editor showing on the screen.

This past December Vanessa Woodacre and I travelled to the town of Fergus to meet with a small group of Educational Assistants (EAs). We were there to interview them about the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that is routinely required at work to protect themselves from the sometimes daily violence they experience while working with their assigned students. You can read Vanessa’s article on page 14 of this issue.

While Vanessa began to interview the first EA in a private corner of the room, I asked the others about the protective equipment that they had brought along.

First, I learned that their Kevlar armguards were not the hard, plastic braces I expected; instead they looked like yellow knitted socks. “These protect you from bites?” I asked. “No. No, not really,” I was told. The armguards protected them from the puncture wounds associated with bites, but as one EA rolled up her sleeve, I could see the deep purple-green bruise that was the usual if not an uncommon result.

“Is that a denim vest?” I asked. Actually, it was a smock. And yes it was denim because that’s the toughest material the EA was able to sew. Yes, they make some of their own safety equipment.
“What about training?” I asked. They rhymed off NVCI NI, BSMT and a series of other acronyms. But some of the physical restraints taught seldom work on larger students or they require more than one person.

“Safety plans?” I asked. The EAs nodded their heads. Yes, students usually have safety plans but they’re not always effective or even up to date. Of course, these are not ordinary students. These are special needs students who have congenital or acquired conditions that have left them with particular propensities for violence. It is the job of the EAs to support these students to achieve success in the classroom and in school settings.

So there is the conundrum. In our schools we have students who have little or no control over their violent actions and they require support. And we have EAs whose job it is to support these students and who are inevitably the victims of their aggressive acts.

The real question to ask is: “Should anyone be expected to be a victim of physical violence at work?”

I can’t help but notice the similarity to Ontario’s nurses. Like our EAs, they face the prospect of violence on a daily basis. And like our EAs, they are a job class of predominately women. Can it be that the risks of workplace violence for EAs and nurses is at least partly due to gender?

I don’t believe the argument that any job should come with an expectation for violence. Where the potential for violence exists, the onus is on the employer to provide required, ongoing safety plans, training, equipment and support. Our EAs, like our nurses, deserve the same commitment to workplace safety as the rest of us.

Randy Banderob, Editor

About Randy Banderob
Randy Banderob is the editor of Education Forum and

4 Comments on Workplace violence in schools

  1. Ian halman // April 18, 2016 at 8:20 pm // Reply

    Thank you for taking the time to write this article. I am a male EA in autism unit that has been assaulted more times than I can count. I have been on the health and safety committee and seen superintendents and pronciples turn the conversation to slips and falls in the icy parking lot when confronted with questions regarding psychotic individuals in the classroom. Only outing administrators that refuse to change job descriptions to include accompdations nurse orderlies and yes prison guards receive in terms of protection and compensation will improve our situation. Thank you for publicizing our plight.

  2. Planning requires an organization to look at each aspect of their school to analyze their potential for risk. Risks will vary widely with each school.

  3. Bob McCloskey // May 2, 2016 at 12:50 pm // Reply

    Hi Randy, thanks to you and Vanessa for bringing attention to violence in our schools.

    The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) is a much underused tool that offer workers, including EA’s and teachers, protection from violence in the workplace in a number of ways;

    First, workers have the right to refuse unsafe work. If the level of staffing, lack of program or proper facilities, lack of training or lack of other supports makes the work unsafe, the worker can refuse.

    Second, the OHSA requires all employers to have policies and procedures in place to adequately protect a worker.

    Third, when a school board cites privacy as reason to not disclose all information about a student that a worker needs in order to stay safe, S2.2 of the OHSA states that “this act prevails”. A workers right to safe works trumps privacy rights – and Ministry of Labour (MOL) inspectors have supported this with written orders.

    Forth, Unions can and should make grievances against any employer who fails to protect its workers.

    Fifth, the OHSA supports the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) only as a last resort, after all methods to remove the hazard (including humans) have been exhausted – such level of staffing, lack of program or proper facilities, lack of training.

    The MOL determined long ago, again supported with written orders, that violence is not part of an education workers day!

    Again, thanks for your efforts to highlight this issue,

    Best Regards, Bob McCloskey

  4. So why is it that is such an issue? If violence occurs daily, why can we not get extra help prior to the introduction of PPE’s? Why do we wright out hundreds of entries (ABC reports) and aggressive incident reports? Why are other parents not told of the inclusion in their child’s class of students with a history of violence? Interpretation from the board and monitored by the same board seems questionable when accounting for the violence perpetrated by these students.

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