Currie Journal of Knowledge
Core Workers’ Rights
How to cite: O'Fee, J (2020). Workplace Rights. Cascade Journal of Knowledge, volume 1 (1), 11:24.
Abstract: The purpose of this video is to very briefly give you an overview in terms of the core workplace rights that workers have to respect their human rights, their workplace safety rights, and their employment standard rights.
Keywords: Human Rights, Workplace Safety Rights, Employment Standards Rights

Learning outcomes:

Transcribed copy of screencast

Hello, I’m here to present on the British Columbia, occupational health and safety legislation. And we’re going to focus today on core worker safety rights. This is going to be fairly limited in scope to the broad sort of safety things that we see in the workplace. But in an overdue sense, we really need to understand that obviously, no rational person wants to see any worker injured on the job. Injuries cost employers in terms of absenteeism, employee morale, high turnover rates, higher insurance premiums, fines, and penalties.

This is obviously a source of potential legal liability. The fines as of 2020 or $674,000, roughly for a first offence, you can double that for a second offence. Remember that these kinds of penalties can be levied, even if there is no accident. That is a big consideration. And it’s not unusual to see a safety inspector seeing a situation where someone’s on a roof, fall protection; they’ll issue a $75,000 fine you even though no one is injured on the worksite. So this has very significant financial implications as well.

So from the core safety standard, we have what we call an internal responsibility system. The government cannot be everywhere all the time. Workers have to participate in this management have to participate in this. So we call it shared responsibility. We all benefit from safety in the workplace. Every party has a duty towards safety from the employee up to management up to the owners of companies, and including the government. And so we can all participate together we’re going to have a pure workplace injury and obviously, people going home safe at the end of their workdays and important thing for all of us. So, join health and safety committees are going to be mandatory for workplaces, 20 or more employees.

You can certainly have one in any sized workplace, and workers are always going to be able to raise safety concerns. This is going to be a system that’s going to apply to pretty much everybody now the Occupational Health and Safety regulations apply to anyone on a worksite paid to do work. And I mean right down to the pizza delivery person, right that they want to list of who’s everyone? This is what’s spelled out in the regulation.

And you can see even if you’re the owner of a building coming to inspect it while it’s under construction, you need to be wearing a hardhat if that’s required, or high visibility faster steel-toed boots, or any of those sorts of things are going to be required. Even the person like I say, delivering pizza everyone means everyone.

So let’s talk about the workers’ core rights first work worker’s core right that you have is the right to participate in the joint health and safety committee. Now, this is meant to resolve safety concerns you have a right to refuse unsafe work, and you have a right to know about potential workplace hazards. We’re going to go through each one of these in turn, but these are the three core right, so let’s talk about participation.

Half management, half workers gets together, and its objective is To meet and discuss safety concerns the joint health and safety committee is there to identify, consult, advise and participate, essentially to look at workplace situations that might have arisen in the past, look at ways that safety can be improved. workers can, you know, identify, hey, This covers is loose, or this really needs to be fixed. Workers can raise this through the committee, and the committee then is empowered to deal with these things. You have a right to refuse unsafe work. And this one’s a critical right, and this is where we sometimes see disputes between management and workers. And so it’s a really important one to understand. Again when I use the word right okay, that’s fundamental goes to the heart of the working relationship. You can never be punished at work for exercising a right, and so we use that word very carefully, as opposed to say a license. For example, you might have a license to drive a car, which means you have permission you don’t have a right to drive a car. Remember the right to refuse unsafe work, and this could be unsafe regarding the equipment you’re using. In the physical condition of your workplace, some sort of safety contravention, and it creates a hazard not just to you, but to anyone.

You could be, for example, a crane operator be worried that your cable is splayed, and you might drop your load on the sidewalk and injure somebody there. So doesn’t have to be safe to yourself personally could be safety to any person who could be affected by the work that you’re about to do.
So if we look at the situation, let’s say you’re a worker and you feel that the situation you’re in is unsafe. Well, you should tell your supervisor that I feel this is unsafe, and here’s why. There should be an investigation to see if the situation can be resolved. Ultimately, if that can’t be, we move this up the chain someone a union rapper, a member of the joint health and safety committee should be looking at the situation if it still can’t be resolved.

WorkSafe BC will come and investigate the situation and make a safety determination. Remember, no reprisal is permitted these workers exercising a core safety right, so it’s very clear in the regulations that you cannot punish a worker for exercising this, you want to know what this might sort of playing out at in a real workplace type situation. This is a flowchart that’s published by WorkSafe BC, it simply spells out what would happen, what steps could possibly happen in a sort of a typical workplace situation.

Just to illustrate how this has been applied, this is a case out of Ontario, which has the same core worker, right. And in this particular case, these are workers working in the steel smelter. And they felt that this new procedure that they’re about to use was unsafe, and in a steel smelter, you can imagine with molten metal flowing around, that the safety concerns are legitimate and significant.
Obviously, molten metal is not going to be something that you should take lightly. So the management is ensuring the workers know this new process is completely safe. You don’t have to worry; the workers are so sure and remember that the consequences to them of management being wrong could very much be their life, not just something minor injury, so an investigation ultimately revealed.

In fact, this process was safe. The workers were not, in fact, in any danger. And so management decided to discipline these workers for refusing the work. This goes to the Ontario labour relations board, who says no, you can’t do that because it’s not about being right. The workers didn’t have to be right. The workers just had to reasonably believe that the work was unsafe. And so the employees in that situation as experienced smelter workers had reasonable cause this was a different process. They’re unfamiliar with it. They had their concerns, and those concerns were legitimate.

Okay, so it doesn’t matter if you’re right or you’re wrong. It doesn’t matter if the work is ultimately proven to be safe. You cannot face reprisal for exercising it reasonably exercised right. Now, I say reasonably because there are going to be limits on this. And you can see this other side of the coin with the battle mountain case.

Again, we’re currently mine refuses what they claim to be unsafe work. This was more about the worker having a bit of a feud with their foreman and the worker was at Using this right to refuse unsafe work as a way of sort of advancing a personal agenda that they had with their immediate supervisor. So in this particular instance, your arbitrary said, No, you’re abusing that right, you didn’t reasonably believe that the work you’re about to do is unsafe.

And this is not sort of a blanket indemnity that you have that you can just refuse just all you have to do is claim the work as unsafe, and somehow you’re protected, you have to reasonably believe this. Now, again, you can’t refuse to do unsafe work for reasons that are not related to your personal safety or the safety of others.

So if this is part of a work to real campaign and part of a labor dispute of some sort, those would be examples where that would be an abuse of this right to refuse unsafe work, likely to that you can’t refuse to do your work because you see somebody else’s work might be something that we would be unsafe, you can obviously raise that with the joint health and safety committee, but you can’t refuse to do the work that’s been assigned.

To you, you have to have some logical connection to the work about to be done that you’re doing the work you’re about to do, would endanger yourself or anyone else. Now, if you feel that wearing safety harnesses on safer work, say wearing your prescribed hardhat or some other prescribed safety equipment is unsafe. That’s not within the realm of your right to refuse you, your refusal to follow proper safety protocols. If you’re trying to kind of abuse your right to refuse unsafe work, that could be just caused through your dismissal.

Now workplace hazards is an interesting process here where we have what we call a hazardous material Information System. This witness system is a national system so it is standardized across the country. It is a right to know system applying to every industry of workplace. It’s not uncommon for people to get training on if they’re using cleaning chemicals obviously solvents, anything that is poisonous or caustic or has radioactive by bioagents, all of those kinds of things need special training in terms of how to properly handle.

Now, if you’re not trained properly in handling something dangerous, then you can refuse to do the work because that would be unsafe, it is unsafe to deal with say toxic chemicals, if you’re not properly trained on how to handle them. So that would be quite frankly reason to refuse unsafe work. So, you must as an employer, maintain an inventory of your hazardous materials properly label these materials, make sure that there are what are called Material Safety Data Sheets which these are provided by the suppliers typically, and you have to provide training now these sheets are pretty straightforward.
Any employee working with say, a toxic substance of some sort should know how to properly handle them what would happen if they were to be exposed to this or ingested or have a spill on them, what proper steps they should take? Those would be things that that you should should be trained on before you’re have to deal with with an unsafe product. And this is a very standard process.
Here’s a good slide from x This is a Canadian safety website where they have published a very clear kind of slide here where you can see the kinds of things we might want to get training on if we’re dealing with compressed gas, or things that are highly flammable, things that are poisonous or infectious, corrosive, dangerously reactive, poisonous, etc. So these are the kinds of information that they should appear that employees should have. And if they’re not, again, properly trained on the use, transport handling of this substance, then they could refuse to do that because that would be a refusal of unsafe work.

So in summary, I just want to again, a safety culture is good. It’s an ethical approach to business and quite frankly, it’s good for the bottom line. We give workers these rights. You can refuse unsafe work, they can participate in the joint health and safety committee. They have to be educated on workplace hazards and workers cannot face reprisals for the exercise of these rights. So that’s a short overview summary. I hope this was useful for you.

Please look into safety legislation. This is something that’s important for every organization.

John O'Fee

Thompson Rivers University, Canada

John O’Fee is a Lecturer in the School of Business and Economics where he teaches courses in Commercial, Employment and Real Estate Law. John also teaches Real Estate Transactions for TRU Law.

John has been recognized as a distinguished Alumnus of Thompson Rivers University in 1995, awarded a BC Community Achievement Award in 2011, was designated as Queen’s Counsel in December 2015 and most recently received the 2017/2018 Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence from TRU’s School of Business and Economics.