Faculty reports BU for gaps in health and safety rules

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A series of safety incidents involving staff members at Brandon University and the absence of workplace protocols on how exactly to address them have sparked concern among academics.

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A series of safety incidents involving staff members at Brandon University and the absence of workplace protocols on how exactly to address them have sparked concern among academics.

Last week, faculty association executives informed members they had reported their employer to provincial authorities because of “a significant gap” in the university’s health and safety framework.

“This situation is no longer tenable, nor is it tolerable,” union leaders wrote in a mass email Nov. 17.

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

A freedom of information request filed by the Free Press indicates Brandon University has been growing its network of panic switches in recent terms.

Manitoba labour laws require certain workplaces, including public schools and post-secondary institutions, to assess job-related safety risks and enforce a violence prevention policy.

BU does not currently have a specific policy on violence prevention, which is in contradiction to the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

“I was shocked… There’s nowhere that I can go look for something like that; it doesn’t exist,” said faculty association president Gautam Srivastava.

Srivastava said senior administrators have not moved fast enough to enact a policy after they conducted a “gap analysis” of school codes and procedures in the spring of 2021.

There have been several recent incidents during which academics have disclosed they have been subject to a threat of violence from a community member or colleague, he said, noting the union has been pressing administrators to develop a policy for roughly 16 months because accountability is severely lacking at present.

“Without the process and the policy, the union really doesn’t have a place to file a grievance or investigate (the university’s handling of employee allegations of violence),” he added.

Academics and instructors of all kinds typically bring their workplace violence concerns to the union, and it connects them with both a union representative and the human resources department. An “ad hoc process” is then set-up to address a situation, the union leader said.

Srivastava declined to provide details on specific safety incidents, citing member privacy, but he shared some of the situations are ongoing.

A freedom of information request filed by the Free Press indicates Brandon University has been growing its network of panic switches in recent terms.

Thirty-three panic buttons or switches were installed on the campus over the last five academic years. There are 40 active switches in total.

The university reported each device installed between the fall of 2017 and spring 2022 is in an office for “general security reasons.”

When a device is activated, it sends a signal to a monitoring company that facilitates a response — a system that costs approximately $5,000 to maintain annually, per BU.

While Srivastava touted the growing prevalence of this infrastructure, which he indicated is often installed upon employee request, he said a specific policy should determine when the measure and related ones are necessary.

University communications director Grant Hamilton said 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.

The document is expected to be presented at the president’s advisory committee Nov. 30, and discussed at the board of governors table in the new year, he said.

The latter group has to approve the policy before it comes into effect.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health confirmed the province received a tip pertaining to violence prevention at BU last week, and an officer has been assigned to probe the matter and ensure a policy is in place.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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