Occupational Health & Safety: Basic Rights & the IRS… Not that IRS…
Akiva Stern, BHRM, MIRHR
Akiva Stern is Sole Proprietor of HR AID. HR AID is an employment consulting company devoted to helping employees and small business owners easily access employment and labour information as well as helping to resolve their employment issues. Akiva is currently enrolled in the JD/MBA program at the University of Windsor.
Turning back to our regular channel of foundational knowledge about Labour & Employment Statutes, I thought we should continue with Occupational Health and Safety Legislation. Particularly, the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Ontario. Remember, federally regulated employees will be covered under the Canadian Labour Code, but that’s for another day…
The Cautionary Tale
Jim worked at the Safety-comes-second car manufacturing plant. Jim had a mustache. Jim had a wife named Jenn and two beautiful daughters. One day, Jim’s Manager walked into the plant and told Jim he was chosen to work on a new machine, brought in specially to make car widgets. Jim was excited to get started because operating this new machine came with a raise. Jim went over to the machine and flipped the switch. Gears started whirring and whizzing, overall a very impressive thing. Jim noticed, however that the whirring and whizzing was coming from an open hole in the front of the machine where Jim was supposed to feed the raw widget material. It looked dangerous but Jim didn’t want to upset his boss and after all, if he didn’t do it someone else would and he’d lose his raise. So against his better judgment Jim started working with the machine. Later that afternoon the completely unforeseeable happened. Jim was feeding the material through the machine when suddenly the gears yanked the material into the mouth of the beast and Jim along with it. Jim’s arm was torn up and broken, and he had to be rushed to the hospital…
What is the Act?
The Occupational Health & Safety Act is a piece of Provincial Legislation that governs workplaces to ensure the safety of everyone in a workplace. Commonly reported cases include everything from chemical spills, asbestos claims, and other life threatening work conditions but can also include workplace violence and harassment. Responsibilities are outlined for everyone including employers, supervisors, and workers. Even external entities aid in the pursuit of safe workplaces. This Includes the Ministry of Labour (MOL) and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).
- The OHSA applies to all provincially regulated workplaces in Ontario
- Penalties for violating the Act can result in monetary fines and terms of imprisonment.
- The OHSA is administered by the Ministry of Labour.
- More detailed instructions relating to specific workplaces can be found in the OHSA Regulations.
Internal Responsibility System: Everyone Has a Role to Play
The Internal Responsibility System means that everyone has a role to play. Whether it is preventative measures like complying with chemical information stickers, or reacting to Hazards and Dangers after they happen like chemical spills or slip & falls, everyone has an obligation to keep the workplace safe.
Part of this initiative is established through Joint Health and Safety committees. These are groups that meet regularly, made up of management and workers, to promote safe work practices. Some of their responsibilities include:
- Identify workplace hazards
- Obtain relevant information from employers
- Be consulted regarding workplace testing
- Make recommendations for a safer workplace
- Investigate work refusals, critical injuries or fatalities
- Liaison with the WSIB
If You Forget All Else Remember Your ‘4 Rights’
- RIGHT TO KNOW. No employer can ask you to go into work blind. You have a right to know any hazards or potential dangers that could arise over the course of your work. Your employer has an obligation to provide you with the necessary information to do your job safely. If there is a potential danger to the job you are about to do, make sure you’re prepared with preventative measures like wearing PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE) and knowing the appropriate Hazardous Material Information relevant to your work (Found Here).
- RIGHT TO PARTICIPATE. You have right to keep your workplace safe and danger free. You have the right to participate in committees or to be involved as a health and safety representative. Most importantly you have the right to participate in training and information sessions that pertain to the dangers of your job.
- RIGHT TO REFUSE. You have the right to refuse any work that you believe is unsafe to either you or another person in the workplace. (*Recent cases have redefined what may be considered under this branch and some exceptions may apply, consult with your local advisor or HR Professional for more info.)
- RIGHT TO STOP. You have the right to immediately stop work in certain circumstances, particularly where you believe yourself or another to be in immediate danger.
The workplace is a place where EVERYONE is responsible for each other’s safety. This means physical and emotional safety. Internal Responsibility Systems, Health and Safety Representatives, and Joint Health and Safety Committees, made up of Employee’s and Management, are in place for a reason. This Act is first and foremost a PREVENTATIVE measure used to avoid dangerous working environments.
More importantly, there can be no redress from Employers if you follow this act. Mistakes can cost your life, don’t take a chance.
For more information see the full form in the Guide to the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
As a rule of thumb I think the best way to preserve the employee-employer relationship is to speak with a supervisor about your health and safety concerns to try and resolve the issue. However, if you do feel like you are in an unsafe position and resolving the issue internally is not an option, the Ministry of Labour has a toll free number where you can report your concerns:
Ministry of Labour Health & Safety Contact Centre
- Call any time to report critical injuries, fatalities or work refusals.
- Call 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Monday – Friday, for general inquiries about workplace health and safety.
- In an emergency, always call 911 immediately.
Need other languages?
The Health & Safety Contact Centre
(1-877-202-0008) provides services in many languages.
*For your particular area, refer to your specific provincial government website.
**Special considerations may affect relationship status.
***The above is Information regarding Labour and Employment Issues and is not to be considered advice or instructions pertaining to individual or specific employment situations.