Across Canada, health and safety laws are based on the concept of the internal responsibility system, which says workers and employers should be able to meet and solve their health and safety issues as partners. To that end, health and safety laws in this country enshrine the following three rights to most workers.

1. The right to participate

All workers have a right to participate in keeping the workplace healthy and safe by taking part in health and safety activities like the selection of health and safety representatives or joint health and safety committee members, or by being a committee member themselves. With this right comes a worker’s responsibility to report all hazards to their employer, without fear of reprimand, reprisal, or punishment.  Through participation in health and safety-related activities workers participate in deciding what hazards can be tolerated in the workplace, and what hazards must be mitigated.

2. The right to know

All workers have a right to know about all hazards present in their workplace that they may be exposed to, and how those hazards may hurt them. Employers are required to provide the information, training, and supervision a worker needs to avoid being hurt by hazards in the workplace. Training and information about hazards should be provided before a worker is exposed so that they know how to protect themselves.  Unlike what many employers claim, there is no law that supersedes a worker’s right to know about hazards in the workplace. 

3. The Right to refuse

Health and safety laws give workers the right to refuse work that they believe is unsafe. Workers can refuse work that they believe to be dangerous to themselves or their co-workers. Ultimately, the right to refuse is provided so that a worker never needs to decide between their health and safety and having a job. A worker cannot be punished for refusing to do work that they believe will hurt themselves or others.

It is not up to the worker to prove whether their belief is justified. The investigation following the refusal will determine if the refusal should continue. Each jurisdiction has slight differences in the investigation process.

For any questions on your health and safety rights, contact your CUPE servicing representative, or your CUPE health and safety specialist.