Refusing unsafe work

News Blog

Hand Up StopWorker's rights are protected by union contracts, federal and provincial human rights and labour laws, and the Workers Compensation Act (the Act), which includes the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation.

But many workers are unaware of their legal right and obligation to refuse to perform unsafe work.

In B.C., workers aren't required to prove the work is unsafe, but they must have an "honest belief" or "reasonable cause" that certain duties could put themselves or others at risk.

Article 3.12 of the Act states: "A person must not carry out or cause to be carried out any work process or operate or cause to be operated any tool, appliance or equipment if that person has reasonable cause to believe that to do so would create an undue hazard to the health and safety of any person."

You must notify your supervisor if you detect a job duty is unsafe. Workers are protected from employer retaliation, disciplinary action or wage loss, under Article 3.13.

It's important to know you're not refusing to work; you're refusing to do a duty that you believe is unsafe, and the employer has the right to assign other duties within your job description. You cannot simply refuse to work, and then sit in the cafeteria or go home.

Once reported, the employer must investigate and make a determination: they may agree and remedy the unsafe situation immediately, or disagree and say there's no risk of injury.

If you still feel unsafe, the next step is to contact your local OH&S or shop steward to advocate on your behalf. They'll investigate and render another decision.

But if you disagree, you still have the right to refuse. You and your supervisor need to contact a WorkSafeBC prevention officer to do an inspection. Tell them: "I am exercising my Article 3.12 right to refuse unsafe work."

If the WorkSafeBC officer deems the duty to be safe, then you have to perform it as part of your job.

Examples of unsafe work may include: patient/resident handling, violence, exposure to hazardous materials, and using broken or faulty equipment.

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This article originally appeared in the Summer/Fall 2016 issue of the Guardian.