Occupational Health and Safety

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Customer-Initiated Aggression and Violence

The BCFMWU acknowledges that increased passenger volumes and possibly longer wait times for sailings can result in encounters with difficult people, some of whom may become aggressive or violent, leaving you feeling threatened and vulnerable.  


The BCFMWU recognizes that the occupational health and safety of our membership is of vital importance and should be treated as a priority.  We promote worker safety and continuously advocate for improvements in safety cultures and practices across all points of assembly through meetings and discussions with Senior Occupational Health and Safety Committee members, and through SailSafe.


Violence can happen at any work place and can have a serious impact on employees, their families, and the way employers do business.   Violence and Aggression are workplace safety hazards which may cause physical and psychological injury or harm.  Unfortunately, violence against workers is an under-reported, pervasive and persistent problem across many industries.  To that end, we strongly believe workplace violence is NOT part of the job, must NOT be tolerated, and MUST be reported.


Under the Collective Agreement, your employer is responsible for ensuring all reasonable measures are provided for the safety and occupational health of employees, and for taking positive steps to safeguard employees from verbal, psychological and/or physical abuse - taking appropriate action, providing training, and posting information bulletins and notices in conspicuous places.  


If you are on the receiving end of aggression or violence you must tell your supervisor who is responsible for notifying the Operational Security Centre (OSC).   If needed, seek first aid or visit your personal physician for treatment or referral.   Your employer is responsible for getting you any necessary first aid and transporting you to a medical facility.   File an ALERT.   The ALERT establishes an official record of a worker safety incident which is necessary to ensure needed investigations occur and with the appropriate corrective and preventative measures put in place.   It is both your right and obligation to report and to file an ALERT.   It is your right to file a worker injury claim report with WorksafeBC, whether or not you missed work.  You may also need to contact local police and file a report.   


Your personal safety and security at the workplace is more important than expectations for enhancing the customer experience.  It is widely recognized that the more an individual’s aggression is rewarded, the more likely that person is going to be aggressive in the future.   There should be zero tolerance for abuse of workers. 


If you would like to speak with someone about an aggressive or violent interaction with customers or understanding reporting requirements or the rights or considerations that may be available to you, call the Union office and ask to speak with a Labour Relations Officer.  You can reach us by calling Head Office in Nanaimo at 250.716.3454, or toll free 1.800.663.2007.    


Please note that all of the information offered is solely for educational purposes in regards to customer-initiated aggressive or violent incidents occurring at any BCFS worksite.  The information does not apply to situations involving worker- to- worker conflict or interpersonal difficulties or to issues or concerns involving possible abuse or misuse of supervisory or management authority.  There are other mechanisms available in the Collective Agreement to help you address issues of that nature.          


You can learn more about customer-initiated violence and aggression reporting processes, worker rights, and review other relevant information by clicking any of the links available below.   


Aggression is a complex subject because what one person sees as an acceptable form of expressing anger or frustration may be seen by others as a violent act.  In general terms, aggression is any behavior that an individual carries out with the intent to intimidate or harm another person or group of people; it is any act of aggression, physical assault, threatening or coercive behavior that causes physical or emotional harm in a work setting. 


Aggressive and violent behaviours can be distressing or harmful on employees.  Some people who are a victim of aggressive or violent behaviours report lower levels of well-being and tend to suffer greater health problems than others.  Some victims exhibit symptoms similar to those of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), such as anxiety and depression, or lower back pain, or sleep disruptions or deficiencies for example – these and other health consequences can come about as a result of exposure to aggression and violence.  Some examples of behaviour that may be considered aggressive can include the following: 

-           Shouting
-           Swearing
-           Personal insults and name calling
-           Racial or sexual comments
-           Verbal threats
-           Posturing and threatening gestures



Most people think of violence as a physical assault.  However, workplace violence is a much broader problem.   Workplace violence is any act in which a person is abused, intimidated or assaulted, or exposed to other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.   It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults, and even homicide.  It can affect and involve employees, customers and visitors.  Violence includes:

Threatening behaviour – such as fist shaking, throwing objects or destroying property.

Verbal or written threats – any expression of intent to inflict harm to yourself (or your family).

– any behaviour that demeans, embarrasses, humiliates, annoys, alarms or verbally abuses a person and that is known or would be expected to be unwelcome. This includes words, gestures, intimidation, bullying or other inappropriate activities.

Verbal abuse
– swearing, insults or condescending language. 

Physical attacks
– poking, hitting, slapping, pushing, shoving, kicking, biting or spitting.



It certainly isn’t pleasant when someone comes across as showing hostile, aggressive or violent behaviours towards you.  


Not everyone is the same so it stands to reason not everyone will have the same reaction to situations involving hostile, angry or aggressive people.  Not everyone will feel as confident or comfortable as others might feel.  Your employer is responsible for providing a safe workplace and for providing violence prevention training and support to all employees.   


Here are some valuable de-escalating tips which may help you manage a tough situation with a customer.  If you are caught in an encounter with an aggressive person and you feel threatened or vulnerable, quickly scan the immediate area to see if you can enlist the support of a co-worker or supervisor, and be sure to maintain a safe distance between you and the other person.   

De-escalation techniques

Listen:   Listening is the number one step in dealing with unreasonable people.  No progress can happen until the other person feels acknowledged.

Stay calm: When a situation is emotionally charged it is easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment.  Remember to breathe!

Show respect and dignity towards the other person:  No matter how a person is treating you, being disrespectful won’t help resolve the situation.

Look for others around you who might be able to help:  Quickly scan to see if there is a co-worker, supervisor or Union shop steward around.

Don’t say “I understand”:  That usually only makes it worse.  Try saying “Tell me more so I can understand better”.

Avoid smiling:  It may look like you are mocking the person.  Humour can help in some cases, but in the majority of cases it is risky and can backfire turning the spotlight onto you instead of the other persons issue or behaviour.

Don’t return anger with anger:   Raising your voice or pointing at the other person will only add fuel to the fire.

Don’t argue or try to convince the other person of anything:  It will only escalate the situation.

Protect yourself from harm:  Keep extra space between you and the other person.  If someone is really upset keep a reasonable distance between you, and avoid touching them as it might be misinterpreted.  Avoid turning your back to someone who is being aggressive.

Set limits and boundaries:   You have the right to be assertive and say “Please don’t talk to me like that”.

Debrief:  Talk to someone about what happened – your supervisor, Union steward, local president or call the Union office.

Give yourself credit for getting through an uncomfortable situation:   It takes a lot of energy to ‘take the high road’ when someone is behaving badly. 


Remember - no form of abuse towards workers is acceptable.  If it happens, you must tell your supervisor about the incident as s/he is responsible for notifying BCFS Operations and Security Centre (OSC).   If for any reason your supervisor or manager refuses to notify OSC, you can call them yourself at 1.800.858.1888, or email osc@bcferries.com      


You may need to talk to someone about what happened.   You can call a Union steward or local president, or call the Union office and ask to speak with a Labour Relations Officer.   You can call the Employee Assistance Program provided through Lifeworks, which is available 24/7 at 1.800.307.0590.



The first step is to tell your supervisor about the incident as s/he is responsible for notifying BCFS Operations and Security.   Physical threats and assaults should be reported to the police, and a WCB workplace injury claim filed whether you missed work or not.  


Seek first aid or visit your personal physician for treatment or referral.  Your doctor will recommend treatment for your injury, and may refer you to other health care practitioners.  Be sure to ask about any modified work duties, and activities at home, that you can do to help your recovery.   Always let your health care provider(s) know that you were injured at work.       


You must file an ALERT!    The ALERT establishes an official record of a worker safety incident from which the Union has access to review, and will help to ensure needed investigations occur and with the appropriate corrective and preventative measures put in place.    


If you’ve missed work, call WorksafeBC Tele-Claim right away at 1-888-WORKERS (1.888.967.5377).  The sooner WorksafeBC hears from you, the sooner they can start to help you.  Delays in reporting could affect your claim.   WorksafeBC will gather information and answer any questions you may have about making a claim.  If you haven’t missed work but sought medical attention, it is recommended that you still report that to WorksafeBC. 


If you think you have a work-related disease or illness, report it to WorksafeBC as soon as you notice the symptoms.  You can file an occupational disease claim even if you're not working or you've changed jobs.


It is against the law for your employer to discourage you from reporting a work-related injury or disease.

Be sure to keep in touch with your employer if you have to be off work. 


You may need to talk to someone about what happened - you can call a Union steward, local president or call the Union office and ask to speak with a Labour Relations Officer.   You can also call the Employee Assistance Program through Lifeworks – services are available 24/7 at 1.800.307.0590.


It would not be acceptable for anyone, including supervisory or management personnel, to discourage you from reporting a work-related injury or disease, or unduly interfere with your right to file an ALERT.    



While you are at the workplace you are entitled to certain rights and protections under the Collective Agreement, WorkSafeBC Regulations, and the Criminal Code of Canada.   Click on any of the links below to learn more.



Your employer is responsible for ensuring that all reasonable measures are provided for the occupational health and safety of employees, and for taking positive action to safeguard employees from verbal, psychological and/or physical abuse.   


Article 1.01 – Purpose of Agreement


This clause serves as a commitment made by both the Employer and the Union to ensure that all reasonable measures are provided for the safety and occupational health of employees, as set forth in appropriate statutes.  The appropriate statutes are listed in the collective agreement at Article 1.08. 


Article 1.08 – Employees’ Statutory Rights                               


This clause sets out the applicable statutes referred to in Article 1.01:

1. Human Rights Code
2. Workers’ Compensation Act
3. Labour Relations Code
4. Elections Act
5. Canada Elections Act
6. Employment Insurance Act
7. Employment Standards Act
8. Personal Information Protection Act


Article 1.11 – Verbal, Psychological and/or Physical Abuse of Employees


In this clause, the Employer makes a commitment to ensure that its employees are safeguarded from verbal, psychological and/or physical abuse by taking appropriate action, including the provision of appropriate training programs and posting information bulletins and notices in conspicuous places.  


It would be reasonable to believe the Employer, by its commitment, recognizes the risk of injuries associated to customer-initiated violence, aggression and abuse, and that those incidents can damage the health, morale and well-being of those affected and impact their families, and harm the organization as a whole.  This extends to physical injuries and psychological injuries, even if the event did not involve a physical component.  The Union acknowledges that employees have the right to be concerned about the possibility of being caught up in a customer-initiated incident of abuse, aggression or violence while at work.   The Union is committed to ensuring that all incidents are reported (ALERTS) and dealt with as quickly and effectively as possible, with the appropriate investigations, corrective and preventative measures set in place.


Article 27.02 – Unsafe Work Conditions


This clause serves to confirm that no employee shall be disciplined for refusal to work on a job where the employee believes that s/he would be placed at a significant and/or immediate risk to personal health or safety.   To invoke this right of refusal, the employee must first comply with the procedures set out at Section 3.12 of Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (WorkSafeBC regulations).    See the link for WorksafeBC Regulations.



Refusal of Unsafe Work


Further to Article 27.02 of the Collective Agreement where it states no employee is to be disciplined for refusing to work on a job where they believe that they would be placed at a significant and/or immediate risk to personal health or safety, the employee must comply with the following procedures:  


Section 3.12  Procedure for refusal

(1) A person must not carry out or cause to be carried out any work process or operate or cause to be operated any tool, appliance or equipment if that person has reasonable cause to believe that to do so would create an undue hazard to the health and safety of any person.

(2) A worker who refuses to carry out a work process or operate a tool, appliance or equipment pursuant to subsection (1) must immediately report the circumstances of the unsafe condition to his or her supervisor or employer.

(3) A supervisor or employer receiving a report made under subsection (2) must immediately investigate the matter, and

a) ensure that any unsafe condition is remedied without delay, or

b) if in his or her opinion the report is not valid, must so inform the person who made the report.

(4) If the procedure under subsection (3) does not resolve the matter and the worker continues to refuse to carry out the work process or operate the tool, appliance or equipment, the supervisor or employer must investigate the matter in the presence of the worker who made the report and in the presence of

(a) a worker member of the joint committee,

(b) a worker who is selected by a trade union representing the worker, or

(c) if there is no joint committee or the worker is not represented by a trade union, any other reasonably available worker selected by the worker.

(5) If the investigation under subsection (4) does not resolve the matter and the worker continues to refuse to carry out the work process or operate the tool, appliance or equipment, both the supervisor, or the employer, and the worker must immediately notify an officer, who must investigate the matter without undue delay and issue whatever orders are deemed necessary.


Section  3.13  No discriminatory action

(1) A worker must not be subject to discriminatory action as defined in section 150 of Part 3 of the Workers Compensation Act because the worker has acted in compliance with section 3.12 or with an order made by an officer.

(2) Temporary assignment to alternative work at no loss in pay to the worker until the matter in section 3.12 is resolved is deemed not to constitute discriminatory action.

Note:   The prohibition against discriminatory action is established in the Workers Compensation Act Part 3, Division 6, sections 150 through 153.


Section 4.27 defines Violence as:

“the attempted or actual exercise by a person, other than a worker, of any physical force so as to cause injury to a worker, and includes any threatening statement or behaviour which gives a worker reasonable cause to believe that he or she is at risk of injury”


The term “Reasonable” represents how most people within a like community of workers would perceive the same/similar situation.


While Section 4.27 of WorkSafeBC policy does not include verbal abuse or harassing behaviour in the definition of violence, if the abuse or harassing behaviour gives you reasonable cause to believe that you (or a co-worker) is at risk of injury, you must report it.   Whether physical or psychological, all risks and injuries should be promptly reported.   If there is a dispute over whether the worker has reasonable cause, the worker may trigger the safety procedures under Article 27.02 of the collective agreement, supported by Section 3.12 of WorkSafeBC regulations – the right to refuse unsafe work.



The authority to interpret or apply the Criminal Code of Canada falls within the jurisdiction of police and justice system, not the Union or BCFS.   The information offered in this section is intended only for the purposes of awareness in the event an incident occurs and the police involved.  In cases of threat or assault, the decision to file criminal charges is that of the employee. Neither the Union or BCFS can file charges on behalf of the employee, but we jointly encourage employees to purse such matters to the full extent of the law.  In this regard, the employee should seek the advice of attending police officer(s).     


The Criminal Code of Canada - Part VIII - concerns "Offences Against the Person and Reputation". The offence of common assault is the most basic of offences of violence.   The Criminal Code provides definitions of assault and types of assault, and the three ways in which the offence to occur:

- it can be through the intentional non-consensual application of force;

- it can also be an attempt or threat of non-consensual application of force;

- it can be the interference with a person while having a weapon. 


Section  264.1 (1) Uttering Threats

Everyone who commits an offence, who in any manner, knowingly utters, conveys or causes any person to receive a threat

(a)   to cause death or bodily harm to any person;

(b)   to burn, destroy or damage real or personal property; or

(c)   to kill, poison or injure an animal or bird that is the property of any person.


Section 265 (1)  Physical Assault states that an “assault” is committed when a person:

    - applies force intentionally to another person, directly or indirectly, without the consent of that person;

    - attempts or threatens, by an act or a gesture, to apply force to another person, and either has the ability to carry out the attempted or threatened act or causes the other person to believe that he or she has the ability; or

    - accosts or impedes another person or begs while openly wearing or carrying a weapon or imitation thereof.


What does BC Ferries have to say about Violence at the Workplace?

For your review, the printed BCFS pamphlet regarding Violence at the Workplace is available below.  

Prevention of Violence in the Workplace