Safe Workplaces: The Right to a Safe and Healthy WorkplaceRegulations 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 British Columbia 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?In BC, a regulation on the prevention of MSI can be found under the Workers Compensation Act in the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. With respect to eliminating hazards in the office, the employer identifies the risk of workers' susceptibility to MSI by assessing the force and repetition used in the work, the work posture, equipment, work rate, etc.
The employer minimizes, or if possible, eliminates the risk of injury; educates workers at risk of injury in recognizing the symptoms of MSI; and trains workers in using equipment and working in way that minimizes or eliminates the risk. Once a year, the employer monitors how well the minimization and elimination of MSI risk follows the regulation, and makes needed corrections at the workplace. Workers with MSI symptoms, workers whose work is being assessed for MSI risk, joint health and safety committees and worker health and safety representatives are consulted by the employer as the employer takes the steps needed to follow the regulation.
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 BC workplaces are found in Occupational Health and Safety Regulations under the Worker's Compensation Act. An employer must ensure that workers are not working with noise levels above the limit set in the regulation. The limit is 85 decibels in an 8 hour day.
When the level of noise is greater, the employer reduces it by replacing noisy equipment with quieter equipment, or changing equipment to make it quieter; by enclosing the noise source; by separating the workers from the noise, etc. If this is not possible, the employer writes and puts in place a hearing conservation program. The program is reviewed each year with the joint health and safety committee or the worker health and safety representative. The hearing conservation program includes worker education and training, hearing protection for workers, hearing tests for workers, and more. Each of the elements in the hearing conservation program is described in detail in Part 7 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.
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 workplace violence respecting workers' right to a safe and healthy workplace?BC's regulation on working alone is found under the Workers Compensation Act in the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. According to the regulation, the employer has to write and then follow a set of directions for checking on a worker working alone if the worker is at risk of a "disabling injury" and if the worker might not be able to get help in case of injury or other accident.
These directions, or the "procedure", involve another worker making regular checks throughout the shift of the worker working alone and checking in again at the end of the shift. The procedure is written by the employer with the joint health and safety committee or worker health and safety representative and the worker who's working alone. The worker who works alone and the worker who checks on that worker both get trained in the procedure. The procedure is reviewed each year or reviewed when there's a new hazard in the worker's work.
BC also has a specific regulation on the protection of workers from violence in the workplace. The regulation is found in the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. Violence in the workplace, according to the regulation, includes threats, attempted injury, as well as a worker's fear of injury. The regulation applies to only certain workplaces, though. These are workplaces which have been evaluated as being at risk of violence.
At workplaces at risk, the employer writes and then follows a plan on limiting or eliminating possible violence. Workers at these workplaces get training in handling potentially abusive clients, recognizing the possibility for violence, working in a way that puts an end to the possibility of violence or verbal abuse, training in ways of resisting an attack, and more. If there is violence at the workplace, the employer reports it, and the employer advises the affected workers to get treatment, including counseling.