Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

Background

Employees have the right to refuse unsafe work. If you have reasonable cause to believe that performing a job or task puts you or someone else at risk, it is your right not perform the job or task (i.e. an undue hazard).  BC Occupational Health and Safety Regulations provides requirements to guide workplaces in these matters.

You must immediately notify your supervisor[1], who will then take the appropriate steps to determine if the work is unsafe and remedy the situation. This applies to both general safety concerns and to concerns about possible COVID-19 hazards.  For COVID-19, an “undue hazard” would be one where an employee’s job role places them at increased risk of exposure and adequate controls are not in place to protect them from that exposure. In these circumstances, the employee should follow some specific steps to resolve the issue.

A detailed flowchart has been created outlining the steps to take and means of escalation: Refusing of Unsafe Work Flowchart

Step 1: Report the unsafe condition or procedure

Report the undue hazard to your supervisor and give the reasons for considering the assignment unsafe.

  • Each report is dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
  • You may report verbally, but it is recommended that a Hazard Report be submitted to your direct supervisor.

Supervisor investigates the matter and addresses it if possible.

  • As a supervisor, workers are your eyes and ears on the front line of workplace health and safety.
  • When employees refuse work because they believe it's unsafe, this is a critical opportunity to investigate and correct a situation that could have caused harm.
  • In most cases, the issue can probably be easily resolved at Step 1 (e.g., by changing the work procedure, providing education and/or training, modifying the work location, or a combination of remedies.)

If the supervisor determines the work to be safe, the worker is informed. If a mutually satisfactory resolution can’t be found, proceed to Step 2.

Note: Even if an employee’s concern is expressed verbally just in passing, a supervisor still has an obligation to address the concern as a refusal of unsafe work. For example, “Gee, I think that ladder looks too rickety to use” needs to be addressed. 

Step 2: Matter investigated with the participation of JOHSC

If an employee still views work as unsafe after a supervisor has said it is safe to perform a job or task and the safety concern is not resolved:

Supervisor invites a knowledgeable member of the joint occupational health and safety committee (JOHSC) worker representative to participate in an investigation of the matter.

  • This investigation must take place in the presence of the employee and a JOHSC worker representative (if applicable, this should be a JOHSC union representative).
  • If the investigation determines the work to be safe, the employee is informed. If the empolyee continues to refuse the work, proceed to Step 3.

Step 3: WorkSafeBC is notified and attends the campus to inspect

If the safety matter is not resolved:

The employee and the supervisor must contact WorkSafeBC (1.888.621.7233)

  • A WorkSafeBC prevention officer will investigate and take steps to find a workable solution.

 

Resources:

BC OHS Regulations



[1]As per OH&S Regs, a supervisor is a person who instructs, directs, and controls workers in the performance of their duties. A supervisor can be any worker — management or staff — who meets this definition, whether or not he or she has the supervisor title. If someone in the workplace has a supervisor's responsibilities, that person is responsible for worker health and safety. (i.e. manager, dean)