A worker in Ontario, is required by law to notify their Supervisor if they think something is unsafe in their work so that the Employer may make the Workplace safe. An Employer in Ontario is required, and this is a simple paraphrase of many requirements, “to maintain a safe workplace for the worker.” However, situations occur when the danger is immediate so the Right to Refuse Unsafe Work is supported in Ontario Law. Educational Assistants have the full right to refuse unsafe work under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, Section 43.
There are 3 situations that can cause a worker/EA to refuse unsafe work:
- When equipment, thing, or device the worker is to use will endanger the worker or another worker
- When the physical workplace is likely to endanger the worker
- When workplace violence is likely to endanger the worker.
When: A refusal can be done when the worker decides a situations unsafe as they are working. OR, in the case of Workplace Violence, a worker may refuse work even before they are doing the work, if they have a reasonable expectation that workplace violence is going to occur and put the worker at risk of injury
The worker must tell a supervisor something like “I am refusing to work with ____ as I feel it is unsafe” or “I am refusing to ________ because I feel it could injure me” It is important to know 2 things’
- A worker might say this to another worker first, eg. a teacher or a SERT however, the Act requires that the refusal to work is reported to the supervisor promptly and
- The HDSB supervisors are Principals, Vice-Principals or Managers NOT teachers, SERTS or Department Heads
Next a worker must be either given a safe place to be or assigned other work until a worker representative, usually the Joint Health Safety Representative Certified Member, who has knowledge about the work, can come and support the Supervisor as they investigate the refusal forthwith to decide if the work is unsafe or not.
Next steps which may happen:
The Supervisor can decide, “Yes, the work is unsafe” and then the Supervisor is responsible for making the work safe, including training etc. before the workers will be asked if they are ready to return to work. OR The Supervisor can decide the work is safe BUT the Worker Representative believes it is not safe and so the Ministry of Labour will be called in by either party to decide on the situation. At this point, the work may be offered to other workers in front of the Worker Representative, however, the workers must be told there is a Work Refusal and why it is considered unsafe work.
Sometimes a Supervisor does not immediately recognize a Work Refusal. Feel free to clarify what you are saying and/or, notify the Union so we can support the recognition of the refusal. However, please, do not go back to work because a Supervisor does not recognize a Work Refusal. It is your right to be safe at work away from danger and without fear of reprisal for exercising your legal rights. If you have concerns about an unsafe situation or for more information: contact the Union at 905 639 3680 If you or another EA, has done a refusal please contact us so that the Union is aware that a Work Refusal is occurring or has occurred. HDEAA attends work refusals and is notified by the Board but however the sooner we know the better and sometimes, the Union notifies the Board if a supervisor does not follow the steps required in this situation.