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Healthcare facilities updating nametags after safety concerns

Arbitration ruled in union's favour in December


(Canadian OH&S News) — Following a recent arbitration regarding the safety risks of healthcare workers wearing nametags bearing their first and last names, the Prairie North Health Region in Saskatchewan has begun replacing the current employee tags with new ones stating first names only at healthcare facilities.

The arbitration between Prairie North and Local 5111 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) took place in Saskatoon and Lloydminster in September and was settled on Dec. 11, according to the official decision document from the arbitration board. The three-member board concluded that including full names on workers’ nametags violated provincial occupational health and safety law.

Irene Denis, vice president of people, strategy and performance with Prairie North, confirmed to COHSN that facilities in the region had begun cooperating with the decision. “The arbitration went forward, and the decision was that the last name needed to come off of the nametag,” she said, “and so certainly, we’re changing our policy to comply.”

Denis explained that the previous policy had stemmed from the Patient First initiative that Saskatchewan launched in 2009. “There were some comments from the individual who conducted that review that spoke that there was an imbalance between the patient and the staff and that that balance between patient and staff needed to be realigned somewhat,” she said. “There was a decision made to move forward and have last names on the nametags, that certainly staff and patients could benefit from that.”

But CUPE disagreed, citing safety risks for employees.

“Our members were concerned that when they had both names on there, which included their last name, that there would be the potential for people to be able to stalk them, harass them or become subject to violence outside of the workplace,” explained Gordon Campbell, the Saskatchewan health-council chair for CUPE. He added that the arbitration had been based on “a grievance filed after the employer introduced a new policy in 2012.”

CUPE Local 5111 president Brian Manegre, who had been involved in the arbitration, said that Prairie North employees had served as witnesses and revealed incidents that patients had perpetrated due to the nametags.

“Many of these people have done some very violent acts, and some of our members have been threatened by patients that were in there,” said Manegre, citing one witness whose life had been threatened by a patient in a forensic unit. “And we had a nurse who was threatened by a family member while at work, and then the person actually showed up at her home, was stalking her at her home right after the incident at work.”

Denis acknowledged that witnesses had spoken about feeling threatened at the arbitration, but added that Prairie North had had no knowledge of any specific incidents or threats beforehand.

“I believe that CUPE has a right to its position,” she said, “and we obviously disagreed with their position, which is why we ended up at arbitration.”

Manegre said that Prairie North employees whose nametags had not yet been upgraded were covering up the last names, “which many had been doing prior to that and putting themselves at risk of being disciplined.” After he put out the word that the union had won the arbitration last month, Manegre recalled, he visited hospitals and noticed that some of the staff had begun making their own nametags with label makers on yellow label stickers. “The employer seems to be cooperating with this. No challenges or anything.”

According to the 75-page decision document, the previous name tags did not meet the oh&s requirements of the Saskatchewan Employment Act. The Prairie North policy established in 2012 “does not promote the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being of workers because it was introduced without consultation and, in the absence of a formal risk assessment and safety protocols that can be tied to that assessment, does not address the prevention of violence against workers,” wrote arbitration-board chair Allen Ponak.

Headquartered in North Battleford, Prairie North covers the healthcare sector in the northwest part of central Saskatchewan, including Lloydminster. The area includes two regional hospitals and the province’s only psychiatric rehabilitation hospital.

The arbitration decision is available online at http://cupe.ca/sites/cupe/files/arbitration_cupe5111_2015.pdf.