Health & Safety
Safe Workplaces: The Right to a Safe and Healthy Workplace
Workers' right to workplace health and safety appear as standards in workplace health and safety laws. These laws are known as "regulations". It is illegal for an employer not to follow a regulation. A regulation contains the minimum protection an employer must give a worker against dangers to the worker's good health and safety. The minimum protection is defined as a standard.
When an employer doesn't set the workplace's health and safety standards as high as the standards found in regulations, then the regulations need to be properly enforced. Government inspectors play an important role in the enforcement of regulations by ensuring that employers are meeting the legal standards.
When workplace standards fall below the standards set in regulations, a worker's safety may be in danger. The right to refuse allows a worker to step away from work she or he believes is unsafe. While the right to refuse is legally available to most (though not all) workers, in reality, it is a difficult right to exercise. There are precise rules to follow if the worker wants to be legally protected from dismissal or discipline after refusing unsafe work. The refusing worker returns to work after the situation is corrected, or after the regulations are enforced.
The standards set in regulations are well known by workers on workplace joint health and safety committees, which, with the employer, work on limiting or eliminating hazards in the workplace. Information on standards can also be found in the regulations under each provincial, territorial and federal workplace health and safety act, which is usually available online.
The right to know about workplace hazards is a right shared in Canada by most workers. Laws in Canada differ, though, on whether employers have to tell workers about specific workplace hazards, like hazards often found in offices, hazards of violence, or the hazards of shift work and stress.
A unionized worker with a health or safety concern can check her or his collective agreement. Unions sometimes bargain higher safety standards and better enforcement into their collective agreements compared to the minimum legal standards and weak enforcement that can result with a change in government.
Health and safety regulations vary between the 14 provincial, territorial and federal workplace jurisdictions. To learn more about workers' right to a safe and healthy workplace, click on the provincial, territorial or federal tab for the law that applies to your workplace. If you're unsure which law covers you, click here to check.