The right to refuse unsafe work is one of the three basic health and safety rights achieved by the labour movement, along with the right to know about the hazards in your workplace, and the right to participate in workplace health and safety decisions.

Procedures and circumstances around the right to refuse vary from province to province. Below you’ll find the steps you should take to refuse unsafe work in your jurisdiction.

Check out our fact sheet for more information on the right to refuse.

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You have the legal right to a healthy and safe workplace.

Alberta

The law in Alberta states that you shall refuse all unsafe work if you believe there is an imminent danger (that is not normal for the occupation or activity) to yourself or others caused by a tool, appliance, equipment or work procedure at the worksite, according to Section 35 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Here’s how you can refuse unsafe work:

  1. Notify your employer at the worksite that you are refusing work because you don’t think it is safe, and state your reason for refusal.
  2. The supervisor must investigate and take action to eliminate the danger. There must be a written record of your notification, the investigation, and action taken. A copy of the report must be provided to you.
  3. If, in your opinion, a danger still exists, you can file a complaint with a government occupational health and safety officer.
  4. The officer shall investigate the complaint, and document actions taken in a written report. A copy of the report must be provided to you.
  5. If you are not satisfied with the officer’s report and recommendations, you must legally return to work, but may appeal the report within 30 days.

You cannot be disciplined or dismissed for complying with the legislation, according to Section 36 of the Act.

British Columbia

As a worker in British Columbia, you must not carry out work or cause work to be carried out if you believe a work process, or operation of a tool or equipment, would create an imminent danger to yourself or others, according to the Workers’ Compensation Act (Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, Section 3.12).

Here’s how you can refuse unsafe work:

  1. Notify your supervisor or employer of the unsafe condition, and your refusal to work.
  2. The supervisor or employer must investigate and remedy the situation without delay, and inform you of the results.
  3. If you are not satisfied with the remedy, you can still refuse to work.
  4. The supervisor or employer must conduct an investigation with you and the workers’ health and safety representative, or a union representative.
  5. If the investigation does not resolve the matter, you or your employer must inform an officer of the Workers’ Compensation Board to investigate.

You cannot be disciplined for complying with the legislation and regulations, according to the Workers’ Compensation Act (Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, Section 3.13).

Manitoba

As a worker in Manitoba you have the legal right to refuse unsafe work, according to Section 43 of the Workplace Safety and Health Act, when you believe that the work is dangerous to your health and safety or any other person.

Here’s how you can refuse unsafe work:

  1. Notify your supervisor or the person in charge about your concern, and refuse the unsafe work.
  2. The employer must remedy the problem immediately, or investigate along with a worker health and safety committee member or a worker health and safety representative, and take actions to remedy the dangerous situation.
  3. If the dangerous situation is not remedied, you may continue to refuse to work. Any of the persons conducting the investigation may notify a government workplace safety and health officer to investigate. The officer must provide a written report of the findings and orders to you, the employer, and chairpersons of the workplace safety and health committee or its representative.
  4. If these findings have not resolved the issue, you can appeal to the Manitoba Labour Board within 14 days of the order.

You cannot be threatened or discriminated against for complying with the legislation, according to section 42 of the act.

New Brunswick

As a worker in New Brunswick, you have the legal right to refuse unsafe work, according to Section 19 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, when you believe that an act is likely to endanger you or another person’s health and safety.

Here’s how you can refuse unsafe work:

  1. Notify your supervisor about your concerns, and refuse the unsafe work.
  2. The supervisor must investigate the situation in your presence, and take appropriate action or recommend action to the employer.
  3. If the matter has not been resolved to your satisfaction, refer it to the joint health and safety committee, who will investigate the situation.
  4. If the matter is still not resolved to your satisfaction by the committee, or your workplace doesn’t have a committee, you can refer the matter to a government occupational health and safety officer.
  5. The officer will investigate and order remedial action. The written findings will be given to you, the employer, and the committee. If you are not satisfied with the direction of the officer, you may appeal the finding to the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO). The refusal can continue until a ruling is made by the CCO.

You cannot be discriminated against, threatened, or coerced for complying with the legislation, according to section 24 of the act.

Newfoundland and Labrador

As a worker in Newfoundland and Labrador, you have the legal right to refuse unsafe work, according to Section 45 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, when there are reasonable grounds to believe that the work, tool, or equipment is dangerous to you or another person’s health and safety.

Here’s how you can refuse unsafe work:

  1. Notify your supervisor or employer at the worksite, and state your reason for refusal.
  2. If you are not satisfied with the remedy, ask the occupational health and safety committee or the worker health and safety representative to investigate.
  3. If the matter is still not resolved to your satisfaction, you can report your concerns to the government’s Occupational Health and Safety Division or an officer, either in writing or orally.
  4. After a ruling is made, legally you must return to work, but may appeal the order within 7 days.

You cannot be discriminated against through dismissal, discipline, or reduction of either wages or benefits for complying with the legislation, according to section 49 of the act.

Nova Scotia

As a worker in Nova Scotia, you have the legal right to refuse unsafe work, according to Section 43 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, when there are reasonable grounds to believe that the work condition, equipment, material, or any aspect of the work may be dangerous to you or another person’s health and safety.

Here’s how you can refuse unsafe work:

  1. Notify your supervisor or employer at the worksite, and state your reason for refusal.
  2. Where the matter is not remedied to the employee’s satisfaction, report it to your workplace health and safety committee or the worker health and safety representative.
  3. If you are not satisfied with the remedy, contact the Department of Labour and Advanced Education to speak with an officer about the refusal.
  4. The officer shall investigate the complaint, and document actions taken in a written report. A copy of the report must be provided to you.
  5. If you are not satisfied with the officer’s report, you may appeal the report within 30 days, and request a review by the Occupational Health and Safety Council.

You cannot be threatened or discriminated against through dismissal, reprimand or reduction of either wages or benefits for complying with the legislation, according to section 45 of the act.

Ontario

As a worker in Ontario you have the legal right to refuse unsafe work, according to Section 43(3) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, when you believe that any equipment, workplace condition or contravention of the OHS act is likely to endanger you or another person’s health and safety.

Please note this section does not apply to certain workers and some circumstances which are listed in Section 43(1) and (2) of the OHS act.

Here’s how you can refuse unsafe work:

  1. Notify your supervisor or employer about the circumstances for refusing to work. The supervisor or employer must investigate the situation with you and the worker-selected member from the joint health and safety committee, or a union representative.
  2. If, following this investigation, you believe the unsafe condition still exists, you may refuse to work. Either you or your employer must notify a government inspector.
  3. The inspector must investigate in consultation with you, the employer, and a worker-selected member of the joint health and safety committee, or a union representative. The inspector’s decision must be provided in writing to all those involved in the investigation.
  4. You are required to remain in a safe place near your workstation until the investigation is completed. During this time, you may be assigned other reasonable alternative work or directions by your employer.

You cannot be threatened, dismissed, disciplined, intimidated or coerced for complying with the legislation, according to Section 50 of the OHS act.

Prince Edward Island

As a worker in Prince Edward Island, you have the legal right to refuse unsafe work, according to Section 28 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, when there are reasonable grounds to believe that the work may endanger you or another person’s health and safety.

Here’s how you can refuse unsafe work:

  1. Notify your supervisor of your concerns, and refuse the unsafe work. The supervisor must investigate with you and take remedial action or recommend the appropriate action to the employer.
  2. If you are not satisfied with the remedy, contact your joint health and safety committee or employee health and safety representative. The committee or representative shall promptly investigate the situation and make recommendations.
  3. If the matter is still not resolved to your satisfaction, you may refer the matter to a government occupational health and safety officer who shall investigate and order remedial action by the employer. The officer’s report must be provided in writing to you, the employer, and the health and safety committee.
  4. If the inspector rules against you, then legally you must return to work, but you can appeal to the Director of Occupational Health and Safety.

You cannot be threatened or discriminated against, intimidated or coerced for complying with the legislation, according to section 29 of the act.

Quebec

As a worker in Quebec, you have the legal right to refuse unsafe work, according to Section 12 of the Act Respecting Occupational Health and Safety, when there are reasonable grounds to believe that performing the work would endanger you or another person’s health, safety, or physical well-being.

Here’s how you can refuse unsafe work:

  1. Notify your supervisor or employer about your concerns, and refuse to perform the unsafe work.
  2. The supervisor must inform the workplace health and safety representative to examine and determine the corrective measures to be taken. If the health and safety representative is not available, the union must be contacted.
  3. If you are not satisfied with the remedy, either you or your employer must contact a government inspector.
  4. The inspector must investigate your concerns and make recommendations.A written report must be given to you, the employer and the health and safety representative.
  5. If the matter is still not resolved, you may appeal within ten days to the governmental review office.

You cannot be dismissed, suspended, transferred, or penalized for complying with the legislation, according to the section 30 of the act. You also have the right to protective reassignment under certain circumstances.

Saskatchewan

As a worker in Saskatchewan, you have the legal right to refuse unsafe work, according to Section 3-31 of the Saskatchewan Employment Act, when there are reasonable grounds to believe that an act or a series of acts is unusually dangerous to you or another person’s health and safety.

Here’s how you can refuse unsafe work:

  1. Notify your supervisor or employer about your concerns, and refuse to perform the unsafe work.
  2. The employer must remedy the situation or inform the occupational health and safety committee. If unresolved, the committee must investigate and advise you of the decision.
  3. If you are not satisfied with the remedy, or there is no committee, the government occupational health officer must be notified.
  4. The officer must investigate your concerns and make recommendations. A written report must be given to you and the employer.
  5. If the officer rules against you then legally you must return to work, however you may appeal the officer’s decision within 15 business days.

You cannot be discriminated against for complying with the legislation, according section 3-35 of the act.

Federal sector

As a worker in the federal sector you have the legal right to refuse unsafe work, according to Section 128 in Part II of the Canada Labour Code, when there are reasonable grounds to believe performing an activity is dangerous to you or another person’s health and safety. Exceptions exist for workers on ships and aircraft in operation, according to section 128(3-5) of the code.

Here’s how you can refuse unsafe work:

  1. Notify your employer at the worksite that you are refusing work because you don’t think it is safe, and state your reason for refusal. Your employer must take action to protect you, and notify the workplace committee of the issue and the action taken to resolve it.
  2. If you are not satisfied with the remedy, continue to refuse work and report the circumstances to your workplace committee representative.
  3. The employer must immediately investigate the matter with you and a member of the workplace committee.
  4. If the matter is still not resolved, a government health and safety officer must be contacted. The officer must investigate with you, your employer, and a worker member of the workplace committee or representative. The officer must notify you of any recommendations in writing.
  5. You cannot legally continue to refuse the work even if you are not satisfied with the officer’s decision, but you have ten days after receiving the decision to appeal in writing to an appeals officer.

You cannot be dismissed, suspended, or penalized for complying with the legislation, according to the section 147 of the code.