When you’re on the job, you have health and safety rights that are protected by law. They exist to make sure your workplace is safe and to help you protect yourself and your co-workers.
- The health and safety partnership:
- Preventing workplace violence
It’s against the law for your employer to force you to do work you think is unsafe. It’s also illegal for them to run the business in an unsafe way. They can be fined, or even shut down, for not following health and safety laws.
What is dangerous work?
There is no one definition of dangerous work. It could be a task or workspace that you believe puts you or others in danger. It could also be a situation that is not a normal part of your job and that makes you feel unsafe.
A hazard is anything that could cause injury, sickness, or death. There are 4 different types of hazards—it’s a good idea to be familiar with them.
You have 3 fundamental health and safety rights at work, which are protected by law under Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act [pdf]:
- The right to refuse unsafe work. You do not have to do work if you feel it is unusually dangerous, or if you feel there’s a dangerous condition at a work site. Your employer must be in touch regularly if you work alone. You cannot be fired for complaining about or refusing unsafe work, including in a situation where there is potential for violence.
- The right to know about hazards. Your employer must make sure you know about all workplace hazards before you start your job, and what is being done to control or eliminate them.
- The right to participate in health and safety decisions. You have the right to take part in making decisions that affect your health and safety at work. Many workplaces have a health and safety committee and a safety representative who speaks for workers.
The health and safety partnership
Everyone at your workplace has responsibilities to prevent work-related injuries, diseases, and deaths. You, your employer, and your supervisor must work together to prevent work-related injury, disease, or death.
It’s the law that when you are at work you must protect your own health and safety and the health and safety of your co-workers. If you’re a young worker, there are specific resources to help you. But no matter your age, as an employee you have to:
- Co-operate with your employer to stay safe
- Participate in safety meetings and training
- Ask questions if you do not know something
- Use the right protective equipment and clothing and operate equipment safely
- Report unsafe working conditions—including workplace harassment and violence—to your supervisor immediately
- Tell your supervisor if you have a physical, mental, or emotional issue that could affect your ability to work safely
- Know who the certified first aid responders are, where the first aid kits are kept, where the fire extinguishers are, and how to use them
"I got a summer job with a homebuilder. I was helping put in the floor. I backed up a couple of steps and boom! The next thing I know I’m lying in the basement of this home and my leg is broken. The pain was so intense. In the hospital I had to have a plate and pins put in my leg, just below the knee. No one told me that openings in the floor should be blocked to keep workers from slipping through them. If only I knew."
There are also things you cannot do when you are at work:
- Use violence toward other people
- Purposely damage work property
- Harass co-workers or other people
- Engage in behaviour that makes the workplace unsafe for you or others
Your employer’s responsibilities
There are a number of things your employer must do to keep you and your co-workers safe on the job. They have to:
- Hold regular health and safety meetings
- Tell you about all work-site hazards, and what is being done to deal with them
- Make sure that you have the proper skills and training to do your job safely and that you are aware of your health and safety responsibilities
- Supply protective equipment for breathing or noise hazards
- Keep equipment in safe working order so it can perform its function
- Label and store hazardous chemicals properly and control your exposure to harmful substances within allowable limits
- Monitor you if you are exposed to certain chemicals (and in some cases require health exams)
- Investigate potentially serious accidents or injuries (things that almost happened), and report workplace serious injuries and deaths to Alberta Occupational Health and Safety (OHS)
- Develop emergency response plans and, at work sites with more than 20 employees, develop a workplace health and safety program
- Provide working fire extinguishers
- Have certified first aid responders and first aid kits at the workplace
- Prevent violence and harassment at work
"My brother Scott was working for an electrical contractor. His crew was rewiring some machine on a factory’s assembly. Scott started to undo the screws where the wires attached, and he was electrocuted. We found out later the electrical connections hadn’t been 'locked out.' If they had, there wouldn’t have been power in the wires. Scott never said anything to us about getting safety training. The investigation showed he’d never had health or safety training. If he’d known his rights, he might be alive now. I still can’t believe he’s gone."
Your supervisor’s responsibilities
Your supervisor has to:
- Take actions to protect your health and safety, including protecting you from violence and harassment
- Make sure you can do your work safely and advise you when necessary
- Train you to handle dangerous projects if that is part of your work
- Make sure you know how to use, care for, and maintain your personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Report all health and safety concerns to the right people
- Follow employment standards and occupational health and safety laws
If you have a health or safety concern, there are a number of steps you can take, including reporting your concern to the OHS Contact Centre at 1-866-415-8690 or filing a report online.
"I worked part time at a fast-food restaurant. It was a busy place, and we all shared the job of cooking fries. Once when I was dumping fries in the hot oil there was big splash. Hot oil covered my arm and a few other places. I got 3rd-degree burns and the pain was unbelievable. I had skin grafting operations for 14 months. Now I have a major scar that will never go away."
Preventing workplace violence
Workplace violence, whether it is threatened or carried out, is a workplace hazard.
Everyone has a role in preventing workplace violence. As a worker, you can:
- Treat everyone respectfully and with dignity
- Help your employer develop policies and procedures to prevent violence
- Take part in education programs
- Report workplace violence
Your employer’s role
The OHS Act requires employers to:
- Identify potential workplace violence in their hazard assessments
- Develop policies and procedures to minimize or eliminate workplace violence and explain how it is investigated, documented, and reported
- Teach workers how to recognize and respond to workplace violence, including where to get help
The Alberta Human Rights Commission responds to complaints of workplace harassment related to any of the 15 grounds protected under Alberta’s human rights law.
Reality checks: What would you do?
- You work in a restaurant and your supervisor is not around much. The cook thinks it’s fun to throw knives to other workers in the kitchen. You know this is dangerous and puts others at risk, and that you have the right to a safe workplace. What do you do?
- You’re 16 and you work after school as a cleaner in a store. Your supervisor tells you to put the empty cardboard boxes into the compactor baler. You think it’s too dangerous. What do you do?
- A 17-year-old groundskeeper puts on gloves that you saw were in contact with gasoline. The groundskeeper is about to use a lighter. What do you do?
Remember: It’s important to speak up about health and safety.
There are lots of resources you can use to help yourself and your co-workers stay safe on the job. Get the right training, wear the proper gear, follow the rules, and always ask when you’re not sure. If it’s not safe, don’t do it. Make sure you know the rules, your rights, and how to protect yourself and others.