Right to Refuse Dangerous Work


If a worker chooses to exercise their right to refuse dangerous work the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act gives workers obligations and rights associated with working safely. Supervisors are required to assess hazards in the worksite and control them to protect workers. Workers are obligated to identify hazards to supervisors so that they are known, understood and controlled.

These proactive, normal safety processes are required to be followed in accordance with the OHS Act and university policy. Supervisors need to be open to discussing where hazards exist in the workplace and collaboratively make work safe. Workers need to be open to new information and various options to address their concerns. This collaborative approach is part of dealing with a health and safety concern, a report of a hazard, or Step 1 in a work refusal.

Initiating a Work Refusal under the OHS Act

A refusal to do dangerous work is triggered by a worker choosing to report they believe, on reasonable grounds, that there is an undue hazard in their work. Undue hazard, in relation to any occupation, includes a hazard that poses a serious and immediate threat to the health and safety of a person.


Supervisors are responsible for:

  • following the steps in this process
  • listening to and taking action on all health and safety concerns, reports of a hazard, and work refusals from their employees. This action may include a site visit, meeting with employees, determination of the hazard/risk, and identifying controls.
  • implementing any new health and safety controls deemed necessary as part of this process.to reduce the risk of a hazard in the workplace.
  • updating the hazard assessment, safe operating procedures (SOPs), and other documents with the new information
  • communicating with both the employee and all other employees impacted by the change
  • cooperating with HSE and Government of Alberta (GoA) OHS officers, if applicable.

Workers are responsible for:

  • presenting their concerns to the supervisor in accordance with this process, during scheduled work time, as soon as they become aware of the situation.
  • ensuring that their work refusal, as far as it is reasonable to do so, does not endanger the health and safety of any other person. 
  • remaining at the work site to be assigned other work assignments the worker can perform.
  • work with the supervisor to find appropriate controls for hazards/risks in the workplace`
  • cooperating with GoA OHS officers, if applicable.

Health, Safety and Environment is responsible for:

  • maintaining this document and updating the process as required
  • providing advice and support to supervisors and workers to identify, assess, and control hazards in the workplace
  • advising the Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) of the work refusal, as soon as possible, and providing a report providing information regarding the work refusal to the JHSC.
  • acting as a liaison with a GoA OHS Officer, if applicable.
  • cooperating with GoA OHS Officers, if applicable.

The Joint Health and Safety Committee is responsible for:

  • reviewing and providing recommendations regarding work refusals, as applicable.


Do a final check-in with the worker before assuming you have a work refusal.

At this step, the worker and supervisor can still work collaboratively to reach a solution:

Safety Concern Step 0

Is this a health and safety concern or report of a hazard?

If so, the supervisor will react quickly to arrange a discussion with the worker and take the time to listen and fully understand the nature of the concern or hazard. 

  1. The supervisor and the worker should visit  the area where the concern or hazard is present.
  2. The supervisor will ask for options for dealing with the hazard and suggest appropriate control measures as well. 
  3. Supervisors may need to reach out to leaders in their Faculty or Portfolio, their HR Partner or HSE for additional information or support. 
  4. The supervisor will share any new information that they are aware of with the worker related to the concern or hazard. Workers will consider any new information offered in determining if an undue hazard exists. 
  5. The supervisor and worker will work collaboratively to implement measures to address the concern or hazard.

Work Refusal Step 1

Is the worker exercising their right to refuse dangerous work under the Occupational Health and Safety Act?

  1. The worker will remain in a safe place pending the review of the concern or hazard.
    1. The worker may be assigned other duties that do not expose them to the undue hazard
    2. The work may be assigned work in another location that does not expose them to the undue hazard
  2. The supervisor should ask the worker directly, “Are you  refusing to work because you  believe on reasonable grounds that there is an undue hazard at the work site?” An undue hazard poses a serious and immediate threat to the health and safety of a person at a work site.
  3. The supervisor will work with the worker to clarify the reasonable grounds (why) and the nature of the undue hazard (how severe is the impact, how quickly the threat would impact the worker or another person).
  4. If the answer is yes and this is a refusal to do dangerous work, the supervisor will keep the worker safe. The supervisor will immediately notify the Unified Communication Centre at 780-492-5555 and ask to speak to the HSE On Call Officer.
  5. If the answer is no and this is not a refusal to do dangerous work, the supervisor will treat this as a health and safety concern or report of a hazard. (See Step 0)
  6. The HSE On Call Officer will reach out to you to offer advice and support. The HSE On Call Officer will also make arrangements to report the work refusal to the JHSC. 
  7. During the review of this issue the supervisor will make notes of the nature of the issue, the reasonable grounds, the severity and immediacy of the health and safety threat and any other information that is relevant.
  8. Where possible, the supervisor and worker revisit the work area where the undue hazard exists to get a sense of the risk. The following items will be considered:
    1. the configuration of the space, equipment, materials and any environmental conditions.
    2. the work activity. 
    3. options for controlling the hazard.
    4. assistance from other Faculty/Portfolio leaders, your HR Partner, or Health, Safety and Environment if information or assistance is needed to assess or control the hazard.
  9. If the supervisor agrees that there is an undue hazard present, they must work collaboratively with the worker to implement measures to address the hazard.
  10. Supervisors must ensure that any work refusal is appropriately documented using the Work Refusal Record. Share a copy of the record with the worker.

If a solution cannot be reached and the worker continues to refuse to return to work or do particular work, move to Step 2.

Work Refusal Step 2

The Refusal to Do Dangerous Work Continues + HSE will contact a Government of Alberta Occupational Health + Safety Officer

  1. The supervisor will ensure that the worker is kept safe pending the contact to GoA OHS.
    1. The worker may be assigned other duties that do not expose them to the undue hazard
    2. The worker may be assigned work in another location that does not expose them to the undue hazard
  2. HSE will contact GoA OHS immediately and advise them of a work refusal, steps taken to address it and the status of the work refusal. Note that it is within the rights of workers to make the call to GoA OHS. Make a telephone call to the GoA OHS Contact Centre to report a work refusal.
    1. There will be no punitive measures taken against the employee if the employee has decided to contact GoA OHS, whether they advise the supervisor or not.
  3. During the call to GoA OHS provide information about the nature and progress of the work refusal. GoA OHS may instruct the workplace parties to ensure they have completed all legislated steps prior to a determination for an OHS Officer to attend the work site.
  4. A GoA OHS Officer may attend the work area to inspect the work and the hazard and will make a determination:
    1. that it is safe to return to work and will direct the worker to do so.
    2. that there is an undue hazard and will issue a directive to the university to control the hazard. Any such directive must be followed. Once the directive is complied with, the worker can return to work.
  5. The supervisor will advise their manager or director of the outcome of the work refusal and will work with HSE to comply with any directive from a GoA OHS Officer.
  6. HSE will provide a completed copy of the Work Refusal Record with the JHSC for their review and possible recommendation.


  • Employees have a right to be paid during the investigation of a work refusal and are not to be disciplined for exercising a right or responsibility under the OHS Act.
  • As far as it is reasonable to do so, workers must ensure that their work refusal does not endanger the health and safety of any other person.
  • After a determination is made in consultation with HSE that it is safe to do so other workers may be asked to do the work. They must be advised of a work refusal related to this work, the reasons for the work refusal and the reason why the university believes the undue hazard does not exist. Other workers also have the right to refuse.
  • Refusing workers may be assigned reasonable alternate work as long as it is safe to do so. 
  • The JHSC may ask questions or make recommendations related to the refusal to do dangerous work.
  • Health and safety issues associated with personal travel to campus before or after scheduled work is NOT the responsibility of the university and may not form the basis of a work refusal. Supervisors may wish to offer some helpful advice to support their workers.
  • HSE and your HR Partner will help supervisors and workers through this process. During the refusal to work period, the supervisor, and the worker will need to be available and actively participate in the process.