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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 tell workers about workplace hazards. Employers have to make sure workers are trained in workplace health and safety, too. In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act explains this. But in Ontario, farm workers and domestic workers aren't covered by the Act, so farm workers and domestic workers do not have the right to know about workplace hazards.

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, and
  • 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. Workers can get information on workplace hazards by asking the employer for it. A worker who asks the employer for the results of occupational health and safety reports has to be given by the employer those parts of the reports that are on occupational health and safety. First, employers have to let workers know about the reports.

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.

In Ontario, employers have to post in the workplace a copy of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, as well as Ontario Ministry of Labour materials that explain workers' responsibilities, duties and rights. Copies of the materials must be in English and in the majority language in the workplace. Some of the health and safety rights the Act describes are
  • workers' right to participate in decisions affecting workplace health and safety as workers on health and safety committees, and at smaller workplaces, as worker health and safety representatives, and
  • workers' right to know about workplace hazards.

Farm workers and domestic workers do not have these rights.

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

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers have to train workers in the handling, use, storage, disposal and transport of
  • equipment,
  • devices or tools, and
  • biological, chemical and physical materials.

In addition, workplace health and safety law states that training is necessary for workers in certain workplaces and for workers doing certain types of work. Training is necessary so that workers can avoid injury and illness.

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