New requirements for reassigning unresolved work refusal

Regulation changes in B.C. outline employer responsibility when unsafe work refusal is unresolved, and work is reassigned. 

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The refusal of unsafe work is a fundamental right for workers. It’s also a responsibility. The new amendments to B.C.’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulation support this right by specifying how employers must respond.

An employer must investigate when a worker refuses unsafe work. The goal is for the employer and worker to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution.

If the matter cannot be resolved, the employer must continue to investigate the matter as outlined in section 3.12 of the Regulation.

The Regulation amendment, which came into effect on Aug 22, 2022, comes into play if the employer asks another worker to do the job. For full details, see WorkSafeBC’s Regulatory amendment: A primer on refusing unsafe work.

Under the new rules, employers are required to notify workers in writing of any unresolved work refusal before allowing or assigning other workers to take on that work. It also requires employers to tell the subsequent worker of the specific reasons the first worker felt the task was unsafe.

Specifically, the written notice must include:

  • The fact that another worker has refused the work
  • The reason provided by the other worker for refusing the work
  • The reason why the employer believes the work would not create an undue hazard for the subsequent worker or any other person
  • Information about any subsequent worker’s right to refuse unsafe work

The written notice also needs to go to a union representative or a worker representative from the joint health and safety committee where applicable.

The Regulation amendment is in response to a recommendation from a 2019 report. At the request of the B.C. government, Lisa Helps wrote this report to review actions taken by the government and WorkSafeBC following the devastating sawmill explosions at Babine Forest Products and Lakeland Mills in 2012. (See my post, Looking at combustible dust explosions, for more information about one of these tragedies.)

In creating the report, Helps spoke with workers who had expressed safety concerns to their supervisors and refused to do the work, only to see the same task reassigned to another worker.

Proactive practices help prevent worker refusals

“When I see a worker has exercised the right to refuse, that tells me something in their employer’s health and safety system may have gone wrong,” says Kim Stubbs, a WorkSafeBC occupational health and safety consultant in the Fraser Valley. “Because if the employer is doing their regular workplace inspections, having safety meetings, talking to workers and doing everything else that helps them be proactive, they should rarely get to that stage.”

A worker’s right to refuse unsafe work is like a final fail-safe, Kim says. “It shows you’ve missed something or a component of your health and safety system may have failed. Maybe workers weren’t trained for the job. Or the equipment wasn’t being maintained. That refusal is a clear indication something may need to change.”

Employers must be fully aware of their workplace health and safety responsibilities.

Thanks to Kim for answering all my questions.

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