■ Safety of care:

Improving patient safety and reducing risks

The office safety plan

2 minutes

Published: March 2017 /
Revised: April 2021

The information in this article was correct at the time of publishing

If safety is at risk, contact police

Physicians should not hesitate to contact the police if they feel their safety or the safety of others is at risk due to a patient’s aggressive or threatening behaviour. If reporting to police, only give the information necessary for the police to address the threat, such as the threatening individual’s name and the nature of the incident. Avoid divulging any further patient medical information that could be considered a privacy breach.

When it comes to maintaining a safe office environment, physicians can take steps to protect everyone who enters—patients, visitors, staff, and themselves. Examples of steps that may help include:

  • creating and posting a policy about what behaviour is considered inappropriate, aggressive, or threatening, and the potential consequences for anyone exhibiting such behaviour
  • positioning the reception area so that it is visible to other staff1 and allows for a view from reception of everyone entering the office
  • placing office furniture, such as chairs and desks, close to a door or exit to avoid anyone from being cornered1 and to allow a rapid exit
  • using controlled access to certain areas within the office (e.g. having a code entry system)1
  • securing medical records, computers, and medical equipment
  • properly storing medications in designated areas and, if applicable, securing all opioids and other controlled substances in a locked area2
  • having security alarms, including a system to summon assistance (e.g. panic button, personal alarm)
  • having sufficient lighting near entrances and in the parking lots1
  • establishing and documenting emergency response procedures, and ensuring employees are properly trained

Some physicians may be considering using video surveillance as part of their office safety plan. Using video for this purpose raises privacy issues including the need to protect patient and employee privacy by meeting specific requirements of privacy legislation and medical regulatory authorities (Colleges).

Physicians who are employers should be aware of legislation regulating their responsibilities for health and safety in the workplace. In most provinces and territories, these responsibilities are set out in occupational health and safety legislation. Some of these statutes have specific requirements for managing workplace violence, such as the need to develop policies on workplace violence prevention and to provide safety training to staff.3 Physician-employers are encouraged to consult their employment lawyer to learn about their obligations regarding workplace safety.

In the context of a medical practice, policies, procedures, and interventions should also ensure that the confidentiality and privacy of patients and employees are protected.

Members are encouraged to contact the CMPA for case-specific advice.  There are certain legal measures that can be taken to protect a physician and their staff if a particular patient’s behaviour is of significant concern for personal safety.


  1. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety [Internet]. Violence in the Workplace. Government of Canada, 2012 Jan 18 [cited 2016 Nov 10]. Available from: http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/psychosocial/violence.html
  2. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. Prescribing drugs [Internet]. Policy number 7-16, category: Drug/prescribing, 2012 December. [cited 2017 Jan 16], Available from: http://www.cpso.on.ca/Policies-Publications/Policy/Prescribing-Drugs
  3. Canadian Medical Protective Association. Physicians and workplace safety —What are employers’ obligations to employees? [Internet] Ottawa (ON): 2010 June [cited 2017 Jan 20]. Available from: https://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/-/physicians-and-workplace-safety-what-are-employers-obligations-to-employees-

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this learning material is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific professional medical or legal advice, nor to constitute a "standard of care" for Canadian healthcare professionals. The use of CMPA learning resources is subject to the foregoing as well as the CMPA's Terms of Use.