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  • Sep21Thu

    Who is caring for whom?

    Can we not learn from tragedy that other’s experience? September 21, 2023 Melodie Bissell

    I have spent much time over the last decade considering the term Duty of Care, as it relates to safeguarding the vulnerable sector. 

    The concept of duty of care identifies the relationship that exists between two persons (e.g. two individuals, an individual and an organization) and establishes the obligations that one owes the other, in particular the obligation to exercise reasonable care with respect to the interests of the other, including protection from harm. The duty of care arises from the common law, as well as municipal, provincial, federal and international statutes. (

    Both organization (leadership) and the staff and volunteers have a duty to care for each other. 

    Negligence is a breach of duty of care which results in loss or injury to the person or entity the duty is owed. Negligence usually includes doing something that an ordinary, reasonable, and prudent person would not do, or not doing something such a person would do considering the circumstances, situation, and the knowledge of parties involved. In civil liability (see tort), an aggrieved person or entity is entitled to claim damages in a court.

    In May of 2014 Lorna Weafer was attacked by a black bear while working at Suncor Energy Inc’s base camp north of Fort McMurray.

    Other workers who were with the 36-year-old tried to scare off the animal with air horns, but the noise had no effect.

    At the time of the attack, there were mixed messages in the media, indicating that Suncor Energy did provide training and bear spray, however employees of Suncor Energy said they had never received wild life training or spray. 

    After completing an investigation, media reported that Suncor Energy Inc. is now bringing in mandatory wildlife safety training for its oil sands workers in northern Alberta. 

     “I think that was the real wake up call for people working in industry,” said Kim Tichener, owner of Bear Safety & More.  She has offered wildlife safety training for nearly a decade.

    “If you work in bear country you have to have bear safety training, have bear spray accessible and have the tools to keep bears out of facilities,” Tichener said. (Global News Calgary, November 18, 2014)

    Suncor spokeswoman Sneh Seetal says the company reviewed its training practices following the woman’s death.  However, it took a tragic death for the training to become mandatory. The training was launched in 2015. In 2011, wildlife officers killed 145 black bears near the oil sands.  Should it take a tragedy in your own camp for you to make changes.  Can we not learn from tragedy that other’s experience?

    This case study (true) provides us lessons on Duty of Care. 

    The best place to communicate this mutual duty of care is in position descriptions. 

    For example, the organization should provide every volunteer and employee a position description outlining what steps they are taking to demonstrate the care they will provide employees and volunteers within an organization. 

    The position description or job description as some may call it should also spell out how a staff member or volunteer should demonstrate their duty of care to the organization.  Staff members and volunteers have rights, but they also have responsibilities.

    To achieve a high standard of protection, Plan to Protect® believes organizations (in no particular order) have the following responsibilities in demonstrating their duty of care:

    • Managing employee and volunteer recruitment, conduct and performance so as not to take reasonable responsibility not to put other’s in harm’s way;
    • Committing to providing a safe and supportive environment for their staff and volunteers;
    • Will act with respect of all personnel;
    • Will act responsibly and with integrity;
    • Providing mandatory training;
    • Providing the tools and equipment needed to fulfil the role;
    • Ensuring their practices include effective involvement;
    • Establishing and communicating policies, procedures and parameters for engagement;
    • Clearly communicating if insurance is in place that will provide protection against wrongful allegations of abuse, injury or harm;
    • Providing suitable and safe premises;
    • Recruiting staff and volunteers to meet ratios, not to overburden existing personnel;
    • Not stand in the way or interfere when a staff member or volunteer feels they have a legal duty to report abuse;
    • Providing ample notice when a staff member or volunteer is on duty;
    • Providing an adequate system of supervision;
    • To believe the best of their employees or volunteers unless history proves otherwise;
    • Maintain documentation;
    • Providing clear communication and employee/volunteer performance evaluations;
    • Implementation of strategies to prevent bullying;
    • Invest in their professional development; and
    • Show appreciation.

    In most cases an organization cannot delegate their duty to another party.

    To achieve a high standard of protection, Plan to Protect believes staff members and volunteers (in no particular order) have the following responsibilities in demonstrating their duty of care:

    • Being truthful on applications and interviews during the recruitment process;
    • Will act with respect for the cause, the stakeholders, the organization and the community;
    • Will act responsibly and with integrity;
    • Disclose past criminal activity that involve a violent crime or a crime against children, youth and vulnerable adults;
    • Update leadership on any changes that occur i.e. valid driving license, criminal investigations or convictions;
    • Attend mandatory training;
    • Communicate concerns regarding the safety of tools and equipment provided to fulfil the role;
    • Keep things they learn during the course of their work assignment confidential unless required by law or leadership to disclose it;
    • Adhere to policies, procedures and parameters of engagement;
    • Arrive early to program when on duty and staying until all children, youth or vulnerable adults have been dismissed;
    • Provide ample notice if they cannot be present when scheduled to be on duty;
    • Provide written and oral communication to leadership anything that happens out of the ordinary during a program i.e. Incident Report Form;
    • Disclose if they are not physically or mentally able to fulfill their responsibilities;
    • Not post things on the internet which could harm the organization’s reputation;
    • To believe the best of the organization’s leadership unless history proves otherwise;
    • Fulfill their legal duty to report abuse;
    • Raise concerns about safety issues; and
    • Help the organization be successful.

    These are not exhaustive lists.  However, they do demonstrate that both parties have a responsibility to care for each other. 

    I don’t believe many of our organizations will encounter bear attacks, but we have heard of similar situations that happen at camps and overnight retreats.  Every organization will face its own type of tragedy, and unfortunately some of those tragedies lead to burnout, emotional hardship, injury, and even death. 

    Together let us all raise the bar on protection and demonstrate our duty of care to each other.

    Are you interested in learning more?  Check out these relevant articles and definitions. 

    Gosai Law 

    Weir Bowen




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