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Refusing unsafe work

Table of Contents
  1. Can I refuse to do work I think is unsafe?
  2. How can I refuse to work?
  3. Are there rules to follow?
  4. Do all workers have the right to refuse unsafe work, even young workers who are just starting out?
  5. Can I be disciplined or fired for refusing to work or raising concerns?

Can I refuse to do work I think is unsafe? Top

When you've talked to your supervisor (and maybe others), and you still have reason to believe that the work you have been asked to do may endanger your safety or the safety of those around you, you have the right under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to refuse to perform the work.

There are times when the supervisor might not agree with you, doesn't take what you're saying seriously or politely ignores you. If the problem isn't properly addressed and you still feel you could be injured say "NO" to the work. You have the legal right to refuse unsafe work.

How can I refuse to work? Top

Tell your supervisor that you believe that the situation is not safe, and that you will not continue the work until the situation is made right. If necessary, let them know that you are exercising your right under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to refuse work.

Make sure there's no doubt that it's not a discussion or a complaint investigation, but that you're refusing to perform the work until they do something about your concerns. At this point your boss or supervisor may not agree with you, but once you have "refused to work" under the Act, you can't be ordered or forced to do the work and you can't be disciplined for refusing the unsafe work.

This is a serious thing to do and should not be done lightly or be a routine method of solving problems. However, you should not be afraid to exercise your rights when you really think you or your co-workers could be in danger.

Above all, you have the right to go home from work in the same condition you condition you were in when you arrived for the start of your shift.

Are there rules to follow? Top

There is a set procedure that the worker member of the health and safety committee or a health and safety representative and your supervisor will be required to follow.

  • The rules say they must investigate the problem.
  • You will wait in a safe place while they do this.
  • You will be an important part of the investigation, as you will be the one to decide if the problem that caused you to refuse to work has been fixed.
  • If the problem is resolved, and most are, you return to work.

If they finish the investigation and let you know that they feel the work is safe and you have reasonable grounds to believe the work is still unsafe and if it can't be resolved through the internal investigation, a Ministry of Labour inspector is called to investigate.

While the Ministry of Labour investigation is underway, you may be assigned to another job. The inspector will decide if the original job is safe. That decision will determine if you return to your job or if changes must be made before you resume the work.

Do all workers have the right to refuse unsafe work, even young workers who are just starting out? Top

Yes, but for some occupations, the right is restricted. For example, the Act prohibits police officers, firefighters, corrections officers and some health care workers (this is specified in section 43 of the Act) from refusing work when the danger is a normal part of their job or if the refusal would directly endanger the life, health or safety of another person.

Here's a flow chart that shows the work refusal process.

Flow chart that shows the work refusal process

Section 43 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act describes the procedures.

Can I be disciplined or fired for refusing to work or raising concerns? Top

It is against the law for an employer to punish or fire a worker for refusing work that the worker thinks is unsafe.

There are provisions under the Act to protect you from "reprisals".

If you feel you have been disciplined (e.g. sent home without pay, had your hours drastically cut or were fired), you can report it to the Ministry of Labour, who will guide you either to your union (if there is one) or to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) who will rule on the situation. The Ministry doesn't make any rulings or decisions in these situations. The union or the OLRB will handle the process. Be aware that it may take some time to resolve.

Even if you only feel that after a refusal you were treated differently, remember that the loss of a job is nothing compared to losing a finger, getting burned or perhaps losing your life. Give yourself a pat on the back for exercising your rights and protecting yourself and your co-workers. It probably isn't a great place to work if your employer reacts by punishing you.

See Section 50 of the OHSA for law relating to this topic.

Resources related to these topics:

Top

Young Worker Awareness Program - Ontario
www.ywap.ca provides information on your right to refuse unsafe work.
www.ywap.ca/english/7more2.htm provides information so you can learn more about the steps involved in saying no to unsafe work.

Filing a claim if you're disciplined for refusing to work:
Ontario Labour Relations Board
www.olrb.gov.on.ca/english/homepage.htm

Specific questions about a particular workplace or dangerous situation must be referred to the Ministry of Labour Health & Safety Contact Centre.
General questions about the refusal to work process can be directed to the Ministry of Labour via the website: www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/feedback/index.php





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