As a worker in Ontario you have the right to refuse work that you believe is unsafe to yourself or another worker. If you believe that you are endangered by workplace violence, you may also refuse work.
Under the act, a specific prodceedure must be in followed in any work refusal. It is vital for you and your co-workers, along with employers, supervisors, members of joint health and safety committees (JHSCs) and health and safety representatives, to understand the procedure for a lawful work refusal.
Below is a flowchart from the Workers Health & Safety Centre that outlines the key steps to refuse unsafe work in Ontario.
Here are some of the many questions that get asked about refusing unsafe work:
When can I refuse to work?
You can refuse to work if you have reason to believe that:
any machine, equipment or tool that you are using or are told to use is likely to endanger yourself or another worker;
the physical condition of the workplace or workstation is likely to endanger yourself;
workplace violence is likely to endanger yourself; or
any machine, equipment or tool that you are using, or the physical condition of the workplace, contravenes the Act or regulations and is likely to endanger yourself or another worker.
Your right to refuse unsafe work is protected in the Act (even if you had previously performed the work and did not refuse).
What are the steps to refusing unsafe work?
You must immediately tell the supervisor or employer that the work is being refused and explain the circumstances for the refusal.
The supervisor or employer must investigate the situation immediately, in the presence of you and one of the following:
a joint health and safety committee member who represents workers. If possible, this should be a certified member, or
another worker, who, because of knowledge, experience and training, has been chosen by the union to represent them.
You must remain in a safe place that is as near as reasonably possible to your workstation, and remain available to the employer or supervisor for the purposes of the investigation, until the investigation is completed.
- Although not stated as such in the Act, this interval is informally known as the “first stage” of a work refusal. If the situation is resolved at this point, you will return to work.
What if I am not satisfied with the result of the first stage investigation?
You can continue to refuse the work if you have reasonable grounds for believing that the circumstances that caused you to initially refuse work continue. At this point, the “second stage” of a work refusal begins.
Can another worker be asked to do the work that was refused?
Yes, but only after the Ministry of Labour has been called. While waiting for the inspector to investigate and give a decision on the refusal, the employer or supervisor can ask another worker to do the work that was refused. The second worker must be told that the work was refused and why. This must be done in the presence of a committee member who represents workers, or a health and safety representative, or a worker representative chosen because of knowledge, experience and training.
The second worker has the same right to refuse the work as the first worker.
Can an employer discipline me?
No. The employer is expressly prohibited from penalizing, dismissing, disciplining, suspending or threatening to do any of these things to you when you have obeyed or sought enforcement of the OHSA.
Local 1006A members should immediately contact their Staff Representative if they are disciplined or threatened in any way for exercising their rights under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The union will act immediately on complaints.
Who is responsible for Health and Safety in the Workplace?
Everyone has a role to play in the safety of a workplace, including you, your co-workers, your supervisor and especially your employer. This is the law.
Joint Health and Safety Committees
Ontario’s law requires every workplace to have a Joint Health and Safety Committee with Worker and Management Representatives.
The worker representative must be selected by the workers or the union.
The management representative must be selected by the employer.
(Occupational Health & Safety Act [Section 25])
Here are some of the many obligations of an employer:
Take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of workers;
Ensure that equipment, materials and protective equipment are maintained in good condition;
Provide information, instruction and supervision to protect worker health and safety; and
Co-operate with the Joint Health and Safety Committee.
(Occupational Health & Safety Act [Section 27])
Here are some of the many obligations of a supervisor:
Make sure that workers work in compliance with the act and its regulations;
Make sure that workers use any equipment, protective devices or clothing the employer requires;
Tell workers about any workplace health and safety hazards that the supervisor is aware of;
Give workers written instructions on measures and procedures to be followed for their own protection, if prescribed by regulation; and
Take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers.
Under the act, the employer must ensure the supervisor is competent [a) qualified because of knowledge, training and experience to organize the work and its performance, b) familiar with this Act and the regulations that apply to the work, and c) has knowledge of any potential or actual danger to health or safety in the workplace].
(Occupational Health & Safety Act [Section 28])
Workers have a general duty to take responsibility for personal health and safety, which means they should not behave or operate equipment in a way that would endanger themselves or others.
Work in compliance with the Act and regulations;
Use any equipment, protective devices or clothing required by the employer;
Tell the employer or supervisor about any known missing or defective equipment or protective device that may be dangerous;
Report any known workplace hazard or violation of the Act to the employer or supervisor;
Not remove or make ineffective any protective device required by the employer or by the regulations