Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

Health and safety at work is the number one priority of HOPE. The union invests a lot in training Stewards and Health and Safety Committee members in the law and what to do in situations where there may be health or safety risks.

You have rights and HOPE will act on your behalf to enforce those rights. Please take a few minutes to read the following carefully. If you have any questions, contact your workplace Health and Safety Representative or your Steward. If neither of them are immediately available, call your HOPE Representative.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act gives you the right to refuse work that you believe is unsafe. “Unsafe” means that you have reason to believe that doing the work may possibly injure yourself or another worker. You do not have to know with certainty that the work is unsafe but you must have some reason to believe that it is unsafe.


If you work in a long-term care home or hospital or other healthcare facility, as many HOPE members do, you CANNOT refuse to do work, even if you believe it to be unsafe, in one or both of the following circumstances:

• When the type of work or the condition of the workplace is inherent in your work or is a normal condition of your employment; or

• When your refusal to work would directly endanger the life, health or safety of another person.

This does not prevent you from bringing an unsafe condition to the attention of your supervisor or reporting it to your health and safety representative. It just means that you cannot refuse to do work that is normal in the circumstances and/or if your refusal might endanger someone else, such as a patient.

The rest of this explanation applies to potentially unsafe circumstances that are not inherent in your work and where your refusal to do assigned work would not endanger anyone.

The first thing you do if you believe work you have been assigned is unsafe is to bring your concerns to the attention of your supervisor. There is a set procedure that the worker member of the Health and Safety Committee or a Health and Safety Representative and your supervisor will be required to follow.

• The rules say they must investigate the problem.

• You will wait in a safe place while they do this.

• You will be an important part of the investigation, as you will be the one to decide if the problem that caused you to refuse to work has been fixed.

• If the problem is resolved, and most are, you return to work.

If they finish the investigation and let you know that they feel the work is safe and you have reasonable grounds to believe the work is still unsafe and if it can’t be resolved through the internal investigation, a Ministry of Labour inspector is called to investigate.

While the Ministry of Labour investigation is underway, you may be assigned to another job. The inspector will decide if the original job is safe. That decision will determine if you return to your job or if changes must be made before you resume the work.

If you are assigned other work that you are qualified to do, you must accept it unless you think the employer is “punishing” you for refusing the work. In that case, contact your Steward.

The law says this: No employer or person acting on behalf of an employer shall:

• Dismiss or threaten to dismiss a worker;

• Discipline or suspend or threaten to discipline or suspend a worker;

• Impose any penalty upon a worker; or

• Intimidate or coerce a worker

Because the worker has acted in compliance with this Act or the regulations or an order made thereunder, has sought the enforcement of this Act or the regulations or has given evidence in a proceeding in respect of the enforcement of this Act or the regulations. In other words, you cannot be punished or discriminated against if you have exercised your rights.

The inspector will conduct the investigation along with everyone involved and can issue orders. If the work is deemed by the inspector to be safe, you are expected to return to work. If the inspector believes the work is unsafe, he or she can issue order to the employer to correct the situation.

Either side can appeal the inspector’s orders but this takes time. Contact your HOPE representative right away if you feel the inspector is wrong.