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Newfoundland & Labrador

Unsafe Work (The Right to refuse unsafe work)

What is unsafe work?

Unsafe work is work that is dangerous to the health and safety of a person at the workplace.

Can I refuse to do unsafe work?

Yes, a worker has the right to refuse work that she or he believes is dangerous, either to herself or himself, or to another person at the workplace. Newfoundland and Labrador's Occupational Health and Safety Act explains this.

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 the refusal to work, and the related safety concern. Staying 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 it. If the supervisor finds that the work is safe, or fixes the work to the worker's satisfaction, then the worker returns to work. On the other hand, if the worker continues to believe that the work is unsafe, and disagrees with the supervisor over this, then the refusal is investigated again.

2. Health and safety committee's investigation

The worker reports the refusal and safety concern to the health and safety committee, or worker health and safety representative. The committee or worker representative investigates the work.

Finding the work safe, the committee or worker representative advises the worker to return to work, and the worker returns.

3. Inspector's investigation

The workplace may not have a health and safety committee, nor a worker health and safety representative. If this is the case, or if the worker's in disagreement with the findings from the committee or worker representative's investigation, then the worker reports the refusal to the provincial government's Workplace Health and Safety Inspections Division. For the phone numbers to call in the different regions of Newfoundland and Labrador, read Your Guide to Workplace Health & Safety. (Note: Adobe Acrobat Reader is needed to view this document; to download this free software, click here.)

An officer from Workplace Health and Safety investigates the work. Finding the work safe, the officer advises the worker to return to work, and the worker returns.

Will I be paid while I refuse to work?

During the refusal, the worker can be assigned to do other work that's equivalent to the work she or he normally does.

For this other work, the worker receives the same wage and benefits as she or he would have received doing the normal work. Even if the worker has not been assigned to do other work, she or he receives the same wages and benefits as she or he would have received doing the normal work.

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 in Newfoundland and Labrador for an employer or supervisor to reduce wages or benefits, or in other ways discipline, or fire 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 province's Labour Relations Board. The phone number is (709) 729-2707. A unionized worker, instead, can file a grievance and have it dealt with under the collective agreement.

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