Pacific Region Letterhead (8 1/2 X 11) (Word Version & Stocked Form)

Pacific Region Letterhead (8 1/2 X 11) (Word Version & Stocked Form)

Pacific Region / Région du Pacifique
Your fileVotre référence
2003-01-09 / Our fileNotre référence

T. Brooman


Regional Health Centre

33344 King Rd.

Abbotsford, BC

V2S 4P4

Dear Mr. Brooman,

This letter is in response to your complaint filed pursuant to section 127 of the Canada Labour Code on June 15, 2002. As a result of your complaint the JOSH Workplace Committee appointed Mr. Andrew Parrish and Mr. Dan O’Hara to investigate this matter. I have had the opportunity to study their report, which was submitted to me on September 18, 2002.

I have also had the opportunity to consider a Threat/Risk Assessment (TRA) on the matter of open control posts at the RHC by NHQ personnel convened at the request of Dianne Brown, the regional A/Assistant Deputy Commissioner, in response to regional Union concerns consistent with the points that you raise. This assessment contained both a hazard analysis component and a security risk assessment component to ensure that both OSH and security concerns were addressed. In other words, the TRA was designed to provide a complete picture of all issues that impact on RHC, and the methodology and expertise applied in the review was of the highest standard.

You have raised two concerns that you feel could compromise safety and well-being in the workplace. As you are aware I am obligated under Section 124 of the Canada Labour Code to ensure that the health and safety at work of every person employed by the employer is protected. I am also reminded under Section 4 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (a) that the protection of society be the paramount consideration in the corrections process. Consequently we seek to provide a work environment that is safe for staff, and is also an effective environment in which the correctional process can take place.

Your first issue is with respect to "the lack of secured and self contained control posts". You point out that the new living units are planned to house "multi-level, maximum and medium security inmates...This type of control post can save lives, prevent injury, assist in restoring order, and quickly offer a safe shelter to staff in life threatening situations. The risk of maximum and medium security inmates becoming unmanageable, resulting in dangerous and/or life threatening situations to our staff and our inmate populations is a very real possibility".

I find that the JOSH Workplace Committee investigation report does not fully address your concerns. It does not describe the circumstance in which the control post might be assaulted or compromised; assess the likelihood of those circumstances transpiring; or assess how the existence of an enclosure would mitigate the risk to any staff member working in the unit.

The premise with the current design is that the open control post provides for the safest work environment for staff, and best supports correctional interventions that ultimately lead to the protection of society. Open control posts and the direct supervision of inmates are now well established in unit design and operational practise for our institutions. It is clear that increasing staff interaction and supervision of offenders reduces the potential for situations that might compromise the safety of staff or inmates to develop. Inmates are required to solve problems in a more constructive manner and any inappropriate activity is more readily detected. Physical barriers to staff communication are reduced which, in turn, promotes teamwork and communication. This too enhances staff safety.

In your complaint you have referred to the fact that this is a multi-level institution and that there will be some maximum-security inmates. The implication you make is that every aspect of the design and operation should meet a maximum-security standard. I do not agree and find that the unit design and the operational practise should reflect the actual behaviour of our expected population. We know that over many years the number and rate of incidents in the Reception Centre, and in the current Regional Health Centre have been relatively low - clearly within the norms expected for medium security populations. The proportion of maximum-security offenders in all units is not expected to exceed 20%. Maximum-security inmates are typically voluntarily engaged in programming and most will be reclassified to a lower level of security upon completion of the program. In both the RRAC and the Psychiatric Hospitals there are separate ranges, which are separated from the control post by a barrier, where inmates with higher institutional adjustment concerns, or more acute mental health needs, may be housed.

Based on the historical data captured at National Headquarters, the reality of the situation is that assaults on closed control posts by inmates are extremely rare, and assaults on open control posts have not occurred. While it may be argued that changes to the inmate demographics, or other changes to the institutional policies or practices may invalidate this data, until there is some evidence to support these arguments, they remain conjecture. The historical record to date and rarity of assaults demonstrates that this hazard is controlled within safe limits.

With respect to the specific units:

  1. The RRAC (A) is expected to be comprised of 85% maximum and medium inmates. Of those ultimately rated as maximum only a portion is so rated owing to institutional adjustment. The RRAC unit includes two ranges of 16 cells each enclosed behind a mechanical barrier that contains the range and provides physical separation from the control post. It is expected that one of these ranges will be used for new arrivals where they will be housed pending a comprehensive initial assessment; and one range for those inmates for whom there are adjustment concerns noted. The RRAC process allows for a comprehensive assessment prior to and at the time of arrival that includes notification and alert from the provincial pre-trial facility, Preliminary Assessment, and an Initial Interview on arrival. A unit team, including IPSO and Associate Warden, reviews inmates prior to placement on the open ranges. The overall incident rate in the RRAC population is low. Inmates are seeking to make a favourable impression and work constructively with staff. The inmate subculture stands little chance of gaining a foothold in this environment and the likelihood of any concerted inmate activity that might disrupt the unit routine or threaten staff working in the unit is very low.
  2. The Psychiatric Unit (C) could be comprised of up to 20% maximum-security inmates. There is an enclosed range of 32 cells, which is physically separated from the control post. Inmates residing in the unit will typically have some form of mental illness. Mental illness is not necessarily associated with an increased propensity for violence. There is little likelihood of any concerted inmate activity or assault against the staff station. Past experience suggests that the greatest risks are for clinical staff when working in a clinical environment. Reducing the number of barriers and hardness of the environment so as to increase the visibility of clinical activity and to hasten staff response in the event of any impulsive and aggressive patient behaviour is the strategy that best mitigates risk.
  3. The Rehabilitation Unit (D) has no enclosed ranges. The original plan for this unit was to accommodate those inmates with chronic mental and physical disabilities and for aging offenders. The current plan for this unit is to also include inmates with severe to moderate developmental disabilities and cognitive deficits. As a population they will be quite dependent on nursing and correctional staff for assistance in daily living, and for coaching in basic life skills. With this group we would certainly not expect any concerted inmate activity or any hardening of the inmate sub-culture. Some inmates will require ongoing attention with respect to setting and reinforcing behavioural limitations. This involvement from staff will clearly work best from an open control post where staff can work comprehensively in observing and attending to inmate behaviours.
  4. The Program Unit (U) is now expected to open in December 2003 with 127 cells. All inmates in the program unit will be involved in high intensity programming. The population will not differ significantly from that presently on the second floor, other than being a larger population. Although a portion of these inmates will have transferred in from maximum security they will have come voluntarily with the intention of participating in a treatment program. Their behaviour and motivation must be consistent with the expectations of the program or they will be discharged from the institution. While a number of these offenders arrive with strong pro-criminal values and attitudes our experience has demonstrated that these are modulated quickly and profoundly as a result of the environment, program expectations and staff intervention. The program unit will be refurbished. The control posts will be opened up to accommodate a centralized location for a team of correctional officers - and to better facilitate the direct supervision of inmates in the unit. In this unit range barriers will be maintained and this will facilitate the program unit being better able to accommodate varying profiles of inmates in the unit as program needs may evolve over time. The range barriers will allow for inmates to be controlled on the range, and to provide physical separation from the control post if necessary.

Your second concern relates to the availability of "dedicated escape routes". The Wellness Committee investigation report does not address the current living unit (which will maintain the same exits it has had since inception). The report finds that the escape routes in Buildings A, B and C are inadequate, while the escape route in Building D is sufficient. This finding in the Wellness Committee report is not accepted as safe egress routes do exist within these buildings. Staff egress in Buildings B&D is into the staff office area, while egress in Buildings A & C is into the vestibule area. What is consistent in the design of the RRAC, Psychiatric and Rehabilitation Unit Control Posts is that the control post backs on to a secure wall, and there is emergency egress through a door in that wall.

Emergency egress from each of the units is based on both design and an evacuation plan. The written evacuation plan has not yet been developed or approved. Unit procedures are being developed around principles for controlling the vestibule area, and for ensuring the direct supervision/escorting of any inmate traffic between the living unit area and administration area of the units.

Egress from the RRAC control post will be to the vestibule behind the control post. The building entry and both doors to the inmate portion of the unit will be locked and controlled by the control post, thus making the vestibule area secure.. In the case of an emergency, staff will have access, using a key, to the outside or to the adjacent staff area.

In the Medical Hospital egress will be into the exercise yard that faces the OCP. This egress could be difficult if inmates are in the way of the exit. In such cases, exit into the corridor that connects the Hospital to the Psychiatric Unit provides an acceptable alternative.

The egress for the Psychiatric Hospital is similar to that of the RRAC. The vestibule area to the unit can be quickly secured by locking the doors to the inmate area (2) and to the quiet cell area. Staff can exit, using a key, to the exterior or to the staff office area.

In the Rehabilitation Unit egress is directly from the Post into the secure staff area.

An emergency shut down button is included in the OCP consoles or at the egress doors of all units. Activation of these buttons disables the power to touch screens and monitors, places all cell locks in the locked (fail secure) position, closes and locks the sliding unit entry doors and locks the building entry doors. Upon activation, the post egress door locking mechanism will cycle for a few seconds allowing time for staff to leave into a secure area. If an inmate's cell is open and he chooses to enter and close his door, the door will automatically lock. The inmate's electronic keys will no longer work. Inmates stranded in the tier because their cell is locked will either join another inmate in their cell or remain on the tier.

There will be a requirement for a protocol for the decision to evacuate a unit and the actual procedure for the evacuation. We expect to have extensive dialogue with staff and regular practice to ensure they are confident in the egress plan.

You also mention in your complaint that you have had insufficient opportunity to tour the facility and to provide feedback on the design and construction of the units.

The design of the units was initiated almost seven years ago. At that time there was wide ranging consultation with staff at all levels. Since plans for the units became available several years ago they have been posted in both the RHC and the (Matsqui) RRAC for staff information. In that time there has been little concern expressed about the design, and certainly no written concern.

With respect to your access to the facility I readily acknowledge that not every staff member has been on a tour. It is a construction site at this time and is controlled by Public Works Canada and the Contractor. There are constraints with respect to the number of staff who can visit and the frequency of those visits, and all visitors must attend a compulsory safety briefing as per Workers Compensation Board policy. Despite that, we have made every effort to facilitate visits by staff of all levels and disciplines, and to tour union and OSH committee representatives. To date, I am advised we have toured 70 RHC and RRAC staff members through the new site. In addition to this number, I am also aware that a number of correctional officers and other staff were provided tours of the buildings with the Security Maintenance Officer outside the formal process mentioned above.

In conclusion I am satisfied that the design of the control posts and the egress routes are such that they best ensure the health and safety of employees, and therefore I am not prepared to accept the findings in the Wellness Committee investigation report. Having said that, both the Section 127 investigation and the Threat/Risk Assessment have identified a number of related modifications and recommendations for policy and procedures that will further enhance health and safety in the units.

Thank you for your expressed concern in relation to the design of the units. I hope that my review of the matter helps to alleviate your concern. Ongoing communication, and the involvement of staff in the development of policy, will be key to ensuring a safe and effective correctional environment.

Original Signed by:

Terry Sawatsky

Executive Director

Regional Health Centre (Pacific)

CC: B. Nelmes - Regional Safety Advisor

D. O'Hara - Mgmt Rep - OSH Committee

  1. Parrish - UCCO Rep - OSH Committee

D. O' Dell - USGE Rep - OSH Committee

J. Bartch - PIPSC Rep - OSH Committee