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British Columbia

Unsafe Work (The Right to refuse unsafe work)

What is unsafe work?

Unsafe work is work that involves "undue hazard". If the work is hazardous to start, the work involves undue hazard if the work doesn't need to be as hazardous as it is.

Can I refuse to do unsafe work?

Yes, a worker can refuse work which she or he believes is hazardous to her or his own health and safety, or to the health and safety of others - whether these other people are at the workplace or elsewhere. The Occupational Health and Safety Regulation under the BC Workers Compensation Act explains this.

Can all workers refuse unsafe work?

BC mine workers are covered by the BC Mines Act. The circumstances under which mine workers can refuse unsafe work are different.

What's the proper procedure if I'm going to refuse unsafe work?

1. Reporting and remaining on site for the supervisor's investigation

The worker's priority is reporting immediately to the supervisor and the worker health and safety representative, if there is one, the refusal to work and the related safety concern. Remaining on site for the shift, while taking every measure to report the refusal, minimizes complications down the road.

After the worker reports the refusal, the supervisor investigates the work and repairs it. Or, the supervisor, finding that the work does not need repair, tells the worker so. If the worker continues to believe that the work is unsafe, and disagrees with the supervisor over this, then the work is investigated again, in a joint investigation.

2. Joint investigation

The supervisor investigates the work - this time with the worker and
  • a worker on the health and safety committee, or
  • a worker chosen by the refusing worker's union, or
  • if there's no health and safety committee, and the worker doesn't belong to a union, then a worker chosen by the refusing worker.

If the work is found unsafe, the supervisor can have it repaired. If the worker still believes the work is unsafe, then another investigation takes place.

3. Inspector's investigation

Still believing that the work is unsafe, the worker calls the Workers' Compensation Board. The number, toll free, is 1-888-621-SAFE (7233), 8:30 am - 4:30 pm, Monday to Friday.

An inspector from the Workers' Compensation Board investigates the work. Based on the investigation, the inspector decides whether or not the work needs to be fixed before the worker returns to work.

A worker having trouble contacting the Workers' Compensation Board for an inspector's investigation can contact the BC Federation of Labour for assistance. The phone number is (604) 430-1421, and the email address is bcfed@bcfed.com.

Will I be paid while I refuse to work?

Yes. The worker can be assigned to do other work during the refusal, but at no loss of pay.

Can I be fired or disciplined for refusing work I believe is unsafe?

Workers' hesitation to use the right to refuse is well grounded, since refusing workers sometimes do get fired or disciplined. Following the steps of the refusal procedure helps a refusing worker to protect her or his job. Still, it's illegal for a supervisor or employer in BC to fire, lay off, demote, intimidate, change the work, location or hours, or lower the wages of a worker for refusing work she or he believes is unsafe.

A worker who suspects that she or he has been disciplined or dismissed for refusing unsafe work can make a complaint to the Workers' Compensation Board. A unionized worker can have the matter settled by arbitration under the collective agreement.

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