Employee Health And Safety Rights And Responsibilities
It can be a little concerning knowing you’re working in an unsafe environment. Of course, some workplaces are more dangerous than others, but we can find risks everywhere.
A loose railing at the office.
Equipment that’s too loud.
Tools that have broken handles.
Perhaps it seems inconsequential at the time until we later hear about a co-worker who gets injured. The slip down the stairs, have to be treated for ringing in the ear, or have to wear a cast because their tools failed.
It could have happened to us. It could have been worse.
Do you know your rights? How about your responsibilities?
It’s true. While we have rights in every workplace when it comes to our health and safety, we also have responsibilities to our fellow co-workers and customers. That responsibility doesn’t just go to the employer or manager, but to everyone who interacts with the environment we work in.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act came into law over thirty years ago. It’s designed to ensure no one is injured at work. When it comes to your rights, you need to be aware that you have the following:
Right to know
When you start work or a project, things can be overwhelming. Your manager or employer can’t just leave you to your own devices. You need to be presented with a list of the hazards within the environment, including any equipment, materials, process, or the environment itself. An example of this is construction workers working on a new high-rise building. You can imagine the dangers therein, but workers are to be explicitly told about those dangers.
The information doesn’t stop there; however, as an employee also needs to know how to operate the machinery within the environment. This training for tools and equipment will reduce the risk of injury.
Right to Participate
We have a right to be a participant in the Health and Safety Committee and the decisions that are made for keeping the workplace safe. We can be a part of the process of identifying any hazards, assessing their degree of danger, and controlling how they are alleviated or removed. Whether we’re part of the committee or not, our participation is achieved by reporting conditions to your manager or employer.
Pro Tip: You have the right to ask questions about your environment.
Pro Tip: An employer must establish and maintain a health and safety committee that employees can join as a safety representative.
Right to Refuse
If you consider your environment as unsafe to work in, you have the right to refuse to do the work until the employer corrects the situation. This could be by replacing damaged tools or equipment or fixing the environment.
Pro Tip: Any person who either asks about safety issues or refuses to work is protected from reprisal in any form.
While we are afforded the ability to exercise the above rights, we are given equal responsibilities to ensure everyone’s safety.
Work in compliance
When we start work and are given the information about the dangers in the environment, we are given access to the OH&S act as well as a set of rules to ensure the proper operation of equipment to the safety of all employees. It is our responsibility to follow those rules.
Use protective equipment
When you work on equipment, your employer will give you tools and equipment to make it safer. This could include ear protection, high visibility clothing, or hard-toed boots. In any case, if the employer lists the requirement for any equipment then we must adhere to ensure our safety.
Pro Tip: This could include facemasks and hairnets for food locations to protect our health.
When it comes to our safety, knowledge is power. If we know something is unsafe, we are required to report it to a manager or our employer. This is the only way they can keep the environment safe for everyone.
Pro Tip: These issues extend to missing protective equipment.
It isn’t just the protective gear we need to use. We need to properly operate our equipment. This could include operating at safe speeds, establishing proper exclusion zones so people aren’t close, or letting people know when you are about to operate machinery.
When work is refused
Remember that a problem or issue that you find may be important enough that you stop working until it is fixed.
When work is refused, an employee must tell their supervisor they cannot work and why. This gives the employer the opportunity to correct the issue. If the issue is not cleared up, then a government representative may be called to inspect the issue and enforce the correction.
If the problem isn’t bad enough that you feel compelled to stop working, then it’s important that you still report it so someone can fix it. Ignoring the issue may let it grow until it can’t be ignored and someone gets injured.
Knowing your rights and responsibilities aren’t just for members of a OH&S committee.