What You Should Do If You Think Your Workplace Is Unsafe


You have the right to refuse work in a hostile and unsafe workplace. If you think there are unaddressed hazards that could result in harm to your health and wellness, you have several options in how to handle them. The last thing you want to do is ignore it.

You might feel uncomfortable, threatened, or fearful about working with certain health and safety issues at play. Here is what you should do if you think your workplace is unsafe.

What unsafe work conditions can look like

An unsafe workplace can mean a lot of things. It can mean unsafe work conditions where you feel you could be physically injured. It could be a workplace that does not have a safe COVID work environment and proper COVID-19 health and safety protocols in place. It can be intimidation or bullying that threatens physical or mental well-being. It can be harassment or discrimination brought on by gender, health, sexuality, ethnicity, or religion.

You have the right to refuse unsafe work

First and foremost, you have the right to refuse work that you deem unsafe. An employer cannot bully you into doing a task, assuming you tell them or a supervisor as soon as possible that you’re refusing work because it’s unsafe.

You can refuse a task if you think the equipment is dangerous, the area you are working in is in bad condition, if someone else is being dangerous, or if you’re being put in danger of violence from someone at your workplace.

Start by notifying your supervisor or employer

You shouldn’t refuse work and not notify anyone. If you think your workplace is unsafe, bring it to the attention of your supervisor. They are required to investigate the situation with you and someone either from a joint health and safety committee or a union representative. If a supervisor does not follow through with an investigation or remedy the unsafe conditions, you’re permitted to continue refusing unsafe work.

Keep notes about any conversations had

While you’re going through these steps, start keeping notes. If things progress to contacting an employment lawyer like www.employmentlawyertoronto.online, these notes can aid tremendously.

The types of things you want to record in your notes are what happened in each conversation, when you noticed the safety problem, what equipment is involved, who is involved, and what steps were taken to fix the issue. Also, record why you think the issue is a danger and what could happen if the problem isn’t fixed.

Participate in the investigation

While the investigation is taking place, wait in a safe place near your work area. An employer’s still required to pay you for the time spent investigating. You have a right to be there during an investigation, can suggest ways to solve the problem, and if you believe the problem is fully resolved, should return to work. Comply with any requests in the safety investigation and if you have a union representative on your side, consult with them on what they feel is needed from you.

Contact a government inspector

In Ontario, if a supervisor or employer does not fix the unsafe conditions, you or them must notify a government inspector. In consultation with relevant parties, they will investigate and decide that will be submitted in writing to you, the health and safety committee, the union representative, and your employer. The decision from a third-party government inspector is believed to be the final ruling on the matter.

Appeal to the Ontario Labour Relations Board

Normally, if a government inspector says the job is safe, you must return to work. That said, if you disagree with the ruling from the Ministry of Labour, you can appeal the inspector’s decision through the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

If you have a union, speak with them first before registering a complaint and appeal. Keep in mind that the hearings at the OLRB can be expensive and difficult. An employment lawyer is another resource you can tap into to decide whether it’s worth moving forward and/or how to do so.

Remain available for work

During these workplace investigations and reporting, you must remain available for work. An employer may assign to you reasonable alternative work or provide directions that an employee must follow.

An unsafe workplace does not mean an employee should stay home and make themselves unavailable for alternative assigned work. Doing so can be interpreted by an employer as avoidance of work.

Contact an employment lawyer

An employment lawyer can help if you think your workplace is unsafe and steps aren’t being taken to resolve the situation. They can also assist you if you’ve been threatened, dismissed, intimidated, or coerced by your employer. According to Ontario’s Occupational Health And Safety Act, you are protected against penalty should you bring safety hazards or unsafe work conditions to the attention of your supervisor and/or employer.


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