Occupational Health and Safety slams Yukon group homes

Employees at the Yukon's group homes are getting hurt. The situation got so bad last year that the territory's occupational health and safety officials stepped in to investigate.

Employees at the Yukon’s group homes are getting hurt.

The situation got so bad last year that the territory’s occupational health and safety officials stepped in to investigate.

Documents obtained by the News describe an August 2013 investigation, ordered by OHS, which found “there is not a fully functioning health and safety program. Incidents that warrant investigation are not attended to in a timely manner and a root-cause analysis was not initiated. Corrective measures are not consistently communicated, implemented, monitored or evaluated.”

The same inspection report goes on to say specialized training, designed to help de-escalate situations, was inconsistent and refreshers were often cancelled.

“Workers are placed alone with clients without this training. Some of these workers have sustained injuries.”

In March of this year, Residential Youth Treatment Services (RYTS), a branch of Health and Social Services, was ordered to create a health and safety program – something that’s required by the Yukon’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.

OHS began its investigation in June of last year after “an influx of injury claims related to workplace violence,” the order says.

“There have been 21 reported injuries in the facilities in the 18 months between July 2012 and January 2014,” OHS spokesperson Richard Mostyn said last week.

Mostyn said some of the incidents “were very serious and included repeated injuries suffered by workers at different times.”

Citing privacy concerns, details surrounding specific incidents, or anything that could identify individuals, were blacked out of the documents.

“I can’t say they were all assaults, but that’s a lot of injuries. Twenty-one injuries is a lot of injuries,” Mostyn said.

Not long after safety officials stepped in, they requested studies from an independent consultant.

In August 2013, Paladin Security completed an investigation broken down into two parts: the first was a program review and the second focused on security.

The report notes that OHS was receiving “unsolicited phone calls from staff expressing their concerns for their personal safety and the ongoing safety issues presented by some challenging clients.”

The independent reviews looked at a shorter timeframe than the numbers provided by Mostyn.

According to those documents, information from OHS for between August 2012 and September 2013 found 11 incidents of staff injury as result of assault on staff by RYTS youth.

That number is higher than in previous years.

The reports found a “notable frequency of violence,” even though much of it doesn’t result in injuries.

RYTS operates six homes in Whitehorse. Each group home has between three and six youth living there. The department can house 30 youth total.

“Some children in residential care have complex problems. They have physical and mental health needs and can have multiple diagnoses. Often these children have histories characterized by instability, abuse, neglect, and rejection,” the report notes.

There are a total of 55 full-time positions in the department. That number jumps to 90 if you include auxiliary staff.

Concrete statistics on assaults and injuries were hard to find. But numbers suggest “assaults on staff were occurring in most facilities,” the report says.

Investigators found some evidence of clients being flagged as a risk for violence, but no clear policy.

“There is high risk potential for a significant event in the future at one of RYTS’s facilities.”

Exactly how bad the violence is remains unclear. The report authors raise concerns that the organization has no way of tracking the amount of violence that is happening.

“The OHS and management capacity to study and aggregate findings, and to monitor action plan implementation is weak,” the report says.

Staff say they’re not receiving enough feedback about what is done after an investigation.

The recent high rate of violence is coming from a small group of clients. But staff is being left in situations they are unprepared to deal with, the report says.

“Staff has been asked to adapt to situations and circumstances that are often outside their experience or training and there are few supportive policies and procedures to assist with risk mitigation strategies.”

In March, Occupational Health and Safety officially ordered that a health and safety program be created for RYTS.

“The deputy minister of Health and Social Services shall ensure the development and implementation of a health and safety management system that meets or exceeds the recommendations as stated in the Paladin audits,” the order reads.

Those recommendations go on for pages.

Despite repeated requests, no one from the Department of Health and Social Services was made available for an interview to answer questions about how the situation ended up the way it is.

In emails, department spokesperson Pat Living said “RYTS is committed to working cooperatively with Yukon Workers Compensation Health and Safety Board (WCHSB) to address health and safety for staff and youth and the Department of Health and Social Services is working with the Health, Safety and Disability Management Branch (HSDM), of the Public Service Commission, to actively improve existing programs and services, and address any outstanding items from the reviews.”

She said improvements have already been made including “adopting several program tools to assess risk; training employees for their specific services; and addressing Critical Incident Stress Management.”

The department has purchased a data management system specifically to track information.

Living said that while the department didn’t have an official plan Occupational Health and Safety is asking for, many of the individual elements of the plan are already in place.

A draft plan has been completed within the 60-day deadline set out in the order, she said.

Contact Ashley Joannou at