Occupational Health and Safety: The Basics
Three fundamental workers’ rights.
Three workers’ rights were first established in 1974 in Ontario. All other jurisdictions eventually followed suit. The three basic rights remain the foundation of current legislation. They are:
- The right to refuse dangerous work without penalty.
- The right to participate in identifying and correcting health and safety problems.
- The right to know about hazards in the workplace.
An employee can exercise their right to refuse dangerous work without penalty anytime they are in a situation in which they feel their own healthy and safety or that of another is at risk. For example, if an employee smelled natural gas in their office building, they can refuse to work, because working in the office exposes them to a potential gas leak and puts their health and safety and that of others at risk.
An employee can exercise their right to participate by being involved in the joint health and safety committee or through worker health and safety representatives.
An employee exercises their right to know about hazards in the workplace by being informed on hazards in the workplace, being trained to perform work in a safe way with the necessary safety precautions, and competent supervision.
Can employees be fired for exercising their rights?
An employer cannot fire an employee from exercising their rights under the OHSA provided the employee is doing so in good faith. Workers are specifically protected from reprisals.
Workers who work in unsafe conditions as a normal condition of their job (e.g. firefighters, police officers, etc.) have a limited right of a refusal.
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