GRAND PRAIRIE (Canadian OH&S News)
A group of Albertan nurses are celebrating their victory after a long fight for the right to a safe workplace.
The decision in late May from the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Council — part of the Human Services ministry — ruled in favour of a group of nurses in Grand Prairie after they were suspended for refusing to treat a violent patient in 2011. The nurses filed an appeal of that decision, which they won, effectively overturning the original suspension.
Lisa Hein, president of the local 37 chapter of the United Nurses of Alberta, said the victory is a vindication of workers’ right to a safe workplace. She described her initial response after winning the appeal as one of surprise and relief that the fight was over. “This has been very stressful for all the nurses involved,” Hein says. “Nurses face the threat of violence every day on the job. Patients threaten to harm staff as well as bite, hit, kick and spit at nurses.”
According to the local nurses association, the incident dates back to almost three years ago when the group of nurses at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Grand Prairie, Alta., located just northwest of Edmonton, refused to treat an unruly patient who threatened their safety and security.
The patient had been removed from the psychiatric ward and was awaiting a court hearing, escorted by RCMP officers. Hein said the patient had previously broken out of a locked seclusion room, injured three security guards and threatened to kill all staff. She added that the nurses were concerned that the seclusion room would not hold the patient. As a result, they refused to treat him and were subsequently suspended.
As part of the ruling from the council, Alberta Health Services was ordered to reimburse the nurses for all lost wages and remove any mention of the events from employment records.
“The safety of our staff and our patients is essential,” said Kerry Williamson, a spokesperson from Alberta Health Services. “We have identified and eliminated hazards on this unit as well as instituted an imminent danger work refusal process for all staff in Alberta Health Services. We work with our staff to address their concerns and ensure we have safe work environments.” She added that health services has no plans to appeal the decision.
Changes have also been made at the hospital, including having security guards trained to deal with unruly patients on the premise.
“We have learned and hope that others learn that the fight for patient and staff safety is a hard one, but well worth it. Everyone has a right to a safe work environment,” Hein said. She added that they are in the process of reversing the discipline with the employer for all nurses involved, and notifying its membership of the success. “This is a win for everyone. Knowing the win is a good thing, as frontline nurses need to know they have the right to a safe workplace environment.”