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 and can be understood and controlled.

These proactive, normal safety processes are required to be followed during the return to and continuation of on-campus work. Supervisors need to be open to discussing where hazards exist in the workplace and collaboratively make work safe. 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.

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. 

Follow these steps in order, and only proceed to the next step if a resolution cannot be reached.


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

At this step, you can still work collaboratively with the worker to reach a solution:

Safety Concern Step 0 - Is this a health and safety concern or report of a hazard? 
  1. If so, react quickly and be proactive to arrange a discussion with the worker and take the time to listen to them to understand the nature of the concern or hazard. 
  2. A visit to the area where the concern or hazard is present may be helpful.
  3. Ask for options for dealing with the hazard and suggest appropriate control measures as well. 
  4. Supervisors may need to reach out to leaders in their Faculty or Portfolio, their HR Partner or Health, Safety and Environment for additional information or support. 
  5. Work collaboratively with the worker 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. Make sure the worker is in a safe place pending the review.
  2. The supervisor should ask the question directly to confirm if the worker is refusing to work because they believe on reasonable grounds that there is an undue hazard (poses a serious and immediate threat to the health and safety of a person) at the work site.
  3. Clarify the reasonable grounds (the 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, keep the worker safe and the supervisor will immediately notify the Unified Communication Centre at 780-492-5555 and ask to speak to the Health, Safety and Environment Oncall Officer. If the answer is no and this is not a refusal to do dangerous work, treat this as a health and safety concern or report of a hazard. (See Step 0)
  5. The HSE Oncall Officer will reach out to you to offer advice and support. The HSE Oncall Officer will also make arrangements to report the work refusal to the Joint Health and Safety Committee. 
  6. During the review of this issue the supervisor should make notes of the nature of the issue, the reasonable grounds and the severity and immediacy of the health and safety threat.
  7. Where possible, go to the work area where the undue hazard exists to get a sense of the risk.
    1. Look at the configuration of the space, equipment, materials and any environmental conditions.
    2. Understand the work activity. 
    3. Ask for and provide options for controlling the hazard.
    4. Seek assistance from other Faculty/Portofolio leaders, your HR Partner, or Health, Safety and Environment if you need information to assess or control the hazard.
  8. 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.
  9. Supervisors should 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 and HSE will contact a Government of Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Officer
  1. The worker will continue to be kept safe pending the contact to GoA OHS.
  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.
  3. 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.

IMPORTANT NOTES: 

  • 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 long as it is safe to do so (and in consultation with HSE) other workers may be asked to do the work. They must be advised of a work refusal related to this work. 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.
  • Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the work refusal inspection/investigation may be done virtually.
  • Health and safety issues associated with personal travel to campus before or after work time are NOT the responsibility of the university. 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.

For more information contact hse.info@ualberta.ca.