New rules for work refusals in B.C. take effect

Amendment 'allows workers to make informed decisions'

New rules for work refusals in B.C. take effect

A new rule strengthening the rights of workers in British Columbia to refuse unsafe work has come into effect.

The new section 3.12.1 under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (OHSR) states that if a worker refuses work, the employer must not require or permit another worker to do the refused work unless the matter has been resolved, or the employer informs the worker of the following:

  1. the refusal
  2. the unsafe work reported
  3. the reasons why the work would not create an undue hazard to the health and safety of the other worker or any other person
  4. the right of the other worker under section 3.12 to refuse unsafe work

“Worker safety is our top priority and this regulatory change strengthens worker protections,” says Dan Strand, director of prevention field services at WorkSafeBC. “This amendment makes the right to refuse process more transparent and allows workers to make informed decisions.”

The amendments to the OHSR took effect Aug. 22.

A worker’s right to refuse unsafe work is an integral element in ensuring work is carried out safely, and all workers in B.C. have the right to refuse work where there is reasonable cause to believe it would create an undue hazard to their health or safety, according to WorkSafeBC.

Overall, 90 per cent of workers in Ontario said they were aware of their right to refuse unsafe work, the province’s Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) previously reported.

Generally speaking, if an employer finds that there is a health or safety risk, it must take immediate steps to protect employees and remedy the problem, according to Melanie Samuels, partner and chair of the Employment and Labour Group at Singleton Reynolds in Vancouver.

“An employer should provide the employee with appropriate options in the interim if it will take time to correct the issue. The employer should not assign the potentially unsafe work to any other employee while the investigation or corrective measures are ongoing.”

However, prior to the amendment, B.C.’s OHSR did not explicitly prohibit the reassignment of refused work, or require the disclosure that another worker had refused the task due to health or safety concerns.

The need for the change was identified in the 2019 report by Lisa Helps called WorkSafeBC and Government Action Review: Crossing the Rubicon. In interviewing for the report, Helps heard examples of workers expressing safety concerns to their supervisors and refusing to do the work, only to see the same task reassigned to another worker.

“Workers are your eyes and ears on the front line of workplace health and safety,” says Strand. “When workers refuse work, it’s because they believe it's unsafe. Employers must listen to these concerns, assess the risk with the worker, document the decision, and ensure they take steps to correct the situation that could potentially cause harm.”

Work refusals are for immediate danger only, says a safety tribunal.