This is the second in a series of Tips and Tools articles on health and safety compliance
Every worker in Canada has the right to a safe work environment. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, or its jurisdictional equivalent, everyone at or associated with the workplace has accountability for their own health and safety and also of those around them.
Many basic elements of occupational health and safety legislation such as the rights and responsibilities of workers, responsibilities of employers, supervisors, etc. are similar across jurisdictions in Canada. However, the details of the legislation and how the laws are enforced can vary from one jurisdiction to another.
- Take every reasonable precaution to ensure the workplace is safe.
- Depending on the size of the organization, establish and maintain a health and safety committee or support workers in the selection of at least one health and safety representative.
- Train employees about any potential hazards, how to safely use, handle, store and dispose of hazardous substances, and how to handle emergencies.
- Make sure workers know how to use and handle equipment safely and properly.
- Make sure workers use any necessary personal protective equipment.
- Immediately report all critical injuries to the government department responsible for occupational health and safety.
- Set the standards for performance, and ensure safe working conditions are always observed.
Manager and supervisor responsibilities
- Make sure workers work in compliance with health and safety acts and regulations.
- Make sure that workers use prescribed protective equipment and/or devices.
- Advise workers of potential and actual hazards.
- Provide workers with written instructions as to the measures and procedures to be taken for their protection.
- Take every reasonable precaution under the circumstances to protect workers.
Managers and supervisors act on behalf of the employer and are therefore responsible for meeting the duties of the employer as specified in the Act for the work they direct.
Employees have the following three basic rights:
- Right to refuse unsafe work.
- Right to participate in workplace health and safety activities through the health and safety committee or as a worker health and safety representative.
- Right to know, or the right to be informed about, actual and potential dangers in the workplace.
- Work in compliance with occupational health and safety acts and regulations.
- Use personal protective equipment and clothing as directed by the employer.
- Report workplace hazards and dangers to the supervisor or employer.
- Work in a safe manner as required by the employer and use the prescribed safety equipment.
- Tell the supervisor or employer about any missing or defective equipment or protective device that may be dangerous.
The general responsibilities of governments for occupational health and safety include:
- Enforcement of occupational health and safety legislation.
- Workplace inspections.
- Incident investigations (e.g., those incidents involving serious injuries or deaths).
- Dissemination of information.
- Promotion of training, education and research.
- Resolution of health and safety disputes.
What happens when there is a refusal for unsafe work?
An employee can refuse work if they believe that the situation is unsafe or dangerous to either themselves or their co-workers. When a worker believes that a work refusal should be initiated, then:
- The employee must report to their supervisor that they are refusing to work and state why they believe the situation is unsafe or dangerous.
- The employee, supervisor, and a health and safety committee member or employee representative will investigate.
- The employee returns to work if the problem is resolved with mutual agreement.
- If the problem is not resolved, a government health and safety inspector is called.
- The inspector investigates and gives a decision in writing.
The legislation holds employers responsible to protect employee health and safety. Inspectors from the government department responsible for health and safety in each jurisdiction carry out enforcement. In some serious cases, charges may also be laid by police or crown attorneys under Section 217.1 of the Canada Criminal Code (also known as the “Westray Bill” or “Bill C-45”). This section imposes a legal duty on employers and those who direct work to take reasonable measures to protect employees and public safety. If this duty is “wantonly” or recklessly disregarded and bodily harm or death results, an organization or individual could be charged with criminal negligence.
If you have specific concerns about what regulations require employers and workers to do, you should consult local authorities in your jurisdiction.
Part 1: Understanding Worker Rights , Health and Safety Report Volume 17 Issue 6
- OH&S Legislation in Canada – Basic Responsibilities fact sheet
- OH&S Legislation in Canada – Three Rights of Workers fact sheet
- Canadian Government Departments Responsible for OH&S fact sheet
- OH&S Legislation in Canada – Internal Responsibility System (IRS) fact sheet
- Health and Safety Committees fact sheets
- Implementing an Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) Program publication
- Health and Safety for Managers and Supervisors online course
- Workers’ Basic Rights poster