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Safe Workplaces: The Right to a Safe and Healthy Workplace

Regulations respecting workers' right to a safe and healthy workplace address only certain workplace hazards. Not all workplace hazards are regulated, and in the various jurisdictions, hazards are regulated differently. Here is a sample of common workplace hazards and the regulations meant to limit or eliminate those hazards. Compare the regulations in Alberta with regulations in the other provinces and territories.

Ergonomic hazards in the office can cause musculo skeletal injury (MSI) or repetitive strain injury (RSI). The injury "carpel tunnel syndrome" is an example. Regulations followed by the employer are meant to protect office workers from MSI. What is the regulation on MSI respecting workers' right to a safe and healthy workplace?

Section 211 of the  Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Code deals with musculo skeletal injury.  A musculoskeletal injury (MSI) is defined by the code as an injury to a worker of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, nerves, blood vessels or related soft tissues that is caused or aggravated by work and includes overexertion injuries and overuse injuries.  If an employee is experiencing symptoms of MSI, the employee must report the injuries to the employer, either verbally or in writing.  If the employer has a procedure in place for reporting injuries, it should be followed.  The employee may provide the employer with documentation from a physician but this is not necessary to trigger the employer’s obligations.

Once reported, the employer has the obligation to review the worker’s activities, review the activities of other workers doing similar tasks, and identify workrelated causes of the symptoms, if any.  Once the assessment has been completed and if the causes of the symptoms are work related, then the employer must eliminate or control the causes to try to avoid further injuries.

Two main health effects of working with noise are hearing loss and stress. Workplace noise can be caused by traffic, pneumatic tools, power tools, machinery, ventilation systems, humans and animals, for example. Regulations followed by the employer are meant to protect workers from too much noise. What is the regulation on noise respecting workers' right to a safe and healthy workplace?

Noise exposure limits in Alberta workplaces are found in the Noise Regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. An employer must ensure that workers are not working with noise levels above the limit set in the regulation. For an 8 hour shift within a 24 hour period, the limit is 85 decibels.

Warning signs have to mark areas where the noise level is above 85 decibels. If the worker works with noise for more than 8 hours in a 24 hour period, or for less than 8 hours in a 24 hour period, then the employer must control the noise level according to the precise noise levels and work hours set in the Noise Regulations.

If the noise level is higher than the legal limit, then the employer must reduce it; and if that's not possible, then the employer supplies the worker with the type of hearing protection equipment specified in the regulation. For a worker working with a noise level at or above the legal limit, the employer organizes and pays for a hearing test within 6 months of the start of the worker's employment, a year after that, and then every two years. If a audiological test result comes back abnormal, the employer must inform the employee of this result. 

Regulations followed by the employer are meant to protect workers from hazardous materials, like workplace chemicals. What is the regulation on hazardous materials respecting workers' right to a safe and healthy workplace?

Regulations in every province, territory, and in the federal workplace jurisdiction state that employers must educate and train workers on certain hazardous workplace materials. These materials are "classified", or named, in the Workplace Hazardous Material Information System (WHMIS). Click here for more information on WHMIS.

Some workplace materials that might be hazardous are not classified under WHIMS. These materials include cosmetics, pesticides, and objects made of wood. Hazardous materials classified under WHMIS include compressed gas, flammable and combustible materials, oxidizing materials, poisonous and infectious materials, corrosive materials and dangerously reactive materials. Each comes with a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) and a WHMIS warning label.

The MSDS and the WHMIS warning label explain the dangers of the material and how to work safely with it. In order to better protect the worker, the employer trains the worker in reading the WHMIS label and data sheet, on safely using the hazardous material, and on responding to a spill, release, fire or poisoning.

Working alone is not always hazardous, but it can be hazardous, especially when there is an injury or other emergency. Working alone is also hazardous when work is done with the public and there's a possibility of violence. Regulations followed by the employer are meant to protect workers from the hazards of working alone and from workplace violence. What is the regulation on working alone and on workplace violence respecting workers' right to a safe and healthy workplace?

Alberta's regulation on working alone is found in the Working Alone amendment to the General Safety Regulation under the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act. According to the regulation, "working alone" means that the worker who is working alone can't easily get help if she or he is injured, becomes ill or if there's an emergency. Please note that farm and ranch workers aren't protected by this regulation.

The work done by workers working alone has to be checked for hazards before the worker begins the work. The employer checks the work for hazards and limits or eliminates these hazards. The regulation states that the employer must tell the appropriate workers about any hazards found.

For the worker's protection, the employer must ensure that the worker working alone and can contact another worker in case of emergency, illness or accident. If making contact is difficult, then the employer visits the worker or ensures that the worker contacts the employer at set times throughout the shift. Training on safe work for workers working alone is required.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act states that an employee is required to refuse work that poses an "imminent danger".  An imminent danger is a danger that is not normal for that job.  It also includes if an employee who is working alone was re-assigned to a new task where no training was provided on how to minimize hazards associated with that work.

Regulations on working alone for the protection of workers 15 to 18 years old are found in the Employment Standards Regulation under Alberta's Employment Standards Code.  These regulations state that between 9:00 p.m. to the following 12:01 a.m, no person 15 to 18 years old can work unsupervised (by a person over 18) in a retail environment selling food or beverages (whether alcoholic or not), retail goods (wares, merchandise, commodities), or fuel (gasoline, propane, natural gas) or in a place that provides overnight accommodation to the public (hotel, motel, etc).  Between the hours of 12:01am and 6:00am, an employer may not employ workers 15 to 18 years old in any of the previously mentioned work environments.  If work enviroment isn't mentioned above, an employer is required to gain parental permission for anyone 15 to 18 working between 12:01 and 6:00am.

How do I make a complaint about my work situation?

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