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British Columbia

Workplace dangers (Right to know about work place dangers - You Can Say No)

What do workers have the right to know about?

Workers have the right to know about hazards and possible hazards in the workplace. Hazards in the workplace can be toxic chemicals in cleaning products used by janitors and by workers who clean the workplace at the end of a shift. Harassment and violent crime are hazards to workers in retail and sales. Poor lighting in offices, cold weather for workers working outside, and tools and machines in construction work are also examples of hazards in the workplace. Knowing about hazards and training to avoid hazards let workers work more safely.

How do workers get to know about workplace hazards?

Provincial law states that employers have to make sure workers know about hazards in the workplace. Employers also have to have workers trained to work in a way that ensures workers' health and safety. In BC, the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation explains this.

What information do employers have to give workers about classified hazardous materials in the workplace?

It is detailed in the workplace laws of every province and territory, and in federal law, that employers have to tell workers about certain hazardous materials. These products are classified, or defined, under the Workplace Hazardous Material Information System (WHMIS).

Compressed gas, flammable and combustible materials, oxidizing materials, poisonous and infectious materials, corrosive materials and dangerously reactive materials each come with a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), which employers make available to workers. These hazardous materials, classified under WHMIS, are stored in containers with a WHMIS warning label.

Together, the WHMIS warning label and the MSDS state:
  • what the hazardous material is,
  • how it is hazardous to humans,
  • how to work safety with it, and
  • what to do in an emergency.

The MSDS gives information in greater detail than the WHMIS warning label on the container.

What is the health and safety training on classified hazardous materials that employers have to give workers?

Workers are trained in
  • reading WHMIS labels so to be able to identify hazardous materials in the workplace and understand the hazardous effects of these materials
  • getting ahold of the MSDS and reading the data sheet
  • safely using hazardous materials in the workplace
  • storing and disposing of hazardous materials
  • knowing what to do if there's a spill, release, fire or poisoning involving a hazardous material
  • using protective equipment in emergencies

Aside from information on classified hazardous materials, what other information do employers have to give workers?

Workplace hazards are not only chemical, like the ones classified under WHMIS. There are many types of workplace hazards. Safety hazards are present in work with machines and equipment, like chainsaws, forklift trucks, ladders and wood working machines. Biological hazards include HIV-AIDS, Hepatitis A, B and C, and rabies, which are present in work with humans who are ill, animals, birds and insects. Physical hazards, for example, are cold, humidity, heat, noise and vibration. Ergonomic hazards can cause injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome or tennis elbow, and are found in work that uses hand tools, involves pushing and pulling, lifting, shoveling, working while seated and working while standing. Stress and violence in the workplace result from bullying, threatening behaviour, verbal threats, harassment and verbal abuse.

Provincial law states that employers have to tell workers about workplace hazards. In BC, employers have to educate workers who may get a musculoskeletal injury (MSI) from the work they do. Education covers the early signs of injury and an injury's possible health effects. MSI can be carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, sprains, strains and inflammation, which are caused or made worse, sometimes, by workplace ergonomic hazards.

Provincial law also states that employers have to keep a copy of the Workers Compensation Act and its regulations, including the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, for workers to read at the workplace. Employers have to make sure that workers know about workers' duties and rights, according to the Act and its regulations. Among the workers' rights explained in BC health and safety law is the right to know about workplace hazards.

By knowing about workplace hazards, workers can make sure employers make the work safer, provide protection to workers, and give training so that workers can work with the smallest possibility of injury or illness.

Aside from classified hazardous materials training, what other health and safety training do employers have to give workers?

Employers in BC have to give workers training in their work so to ensure the workers' health and safety and to ensure the health and safety of other workers in the workplace.

According to provincial workplace health and safety law, workers in certain workplaces receive written instruction in the prevention of workplace injury and disease. These workers also receive instruction in how to work safely. Workers receive this instruction through an occupational health and safety program. Workplaces with an occupational health and safety program are the following:
  • industries with 20 or more workers classified as "A" hazard industries (airport construction, armaments manufacturing and bridge construction, for example) or "B" hazard industries (air and ground personnel in air transportation, alcoholic beverage manufacturing and canoe construction, for example), and
  • industries with 50 or more workers classified as "C" hazard industries (amusement parks, automobile rental and bicycle repair shops, for example).

Provincial workplace health and safety law also details training necessary for workers in certain workplaces and training for workers doing certain types of work. In British Columbia, some examples of worker health and safety training required by law are:

  • for workers who work with the risk of violence, instruction in the recognition of possible violence; instruction in procedures, policies and work arrangements that minimize violence; instruction in the response to violence, including what to do to get help; and instruction in reporting, investigating and documenting violence,
  • training in checking the well being of a co-worker working alone under conditions which present a risk of a disabling injury, and
  • training in fire prevention and emergency evacuation.

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