Health and Safety in the workplace is seen as a joint responsibility between the employer and employees. Glancing over the Occupational Health and Safety Act, for example, clearly defines duties for both employees and employers. Essentially, each party is required to remain vigilant: both play key roles in noticing and reporting unsafe working conditions. There are three rights that employees should know and exercise in order to remain in control of their health and safety in the workplace. These rights are:
- The Right to Know
There are certain standards that employees need to be provided in order to be aware and competent in workplace health and safety. This includes the right to attain safety information, training, supervision from competent individuals, and adequate instructions. For instance, employees are to be made aware of any hazardous material or substances within the workplace, and training for proper handling and use of protective gear.
- The Right to Refuse Unsafe Work
Under all jurisdictions in Canada, workers are permitted the right to refuse work when conditions are dangerous or may reasonably cause harm. This includes the condition of any equipment required for use, the physical condition of the workplace itself (building structure, lose wiring, etc), or the task itself providing the danger is not inherent within the job (ie. police, firefighting, etc).
Employees must report any danger and refusal to their immediate supervisor or manager, whichever present. This will require an initial investigation by the manager/supervisor to correct the danger. If the worker is not satisfied with the remedies implemented, then an investigation that involves a representative from the health and safety committee or the workplace health and safety representative (whichever applicable) will follow in the presence of the worker. If the worker still remains unsatisfied with the results of the investigation, a minister from the government may be contracted and an independent investigation will follow.
- The Right to Participate
Employers are required to implement joint health and safety committees with representatives for both the employer and employees on the committee. Depending on the number of workers at the workplace, employers may be required to have one workplace representative or a committee of 2 – 4 representatives. The committees are to identify any dangerous or hazardous workplace conditions, make recommendation for improvement of health and safety and also handle employee concerns and/or complaints. Representatives also have the right to participate in any health and safety investigations, establish training or educational programs and gather any information from the employer pertaining to safety.
Overall, these are the basic three rights any employee should be aware. These rights grant employees the knowledge and power to take responsibility of their own health and safety, which fulfils a very important objective and purpose of health and safety legislation.