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Refusal of Unsafe Work

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) (external link) , workers have the right to refuse work that they have reason to believe is unsafe for them or others. However, some workers (e.g. health care workers, police officers) have restrictions on their right to refuse work. An employer cannot penalize, dismiss, discipline, suspend or threaten to do any of these things to a worker refusing unsafe work.

Below is a summary of the work refusal process. Detailed steps can be found in the Toronto Metropolitan University’s  (google doc) Guideline for Refusal to Work (external link) .

Definition of unsafe work

Unsafe work is defined as:

  • Any machine, equipment or tool that you are using or are told to use is likely to endanger you or another worker.
  • The physical condition of the workplace or workstation is likely to endanger you.
  • Workplace violence is likely to endanger you.

The right to refuse unsafe work procedure

Stage 1: Resolving the issue at the supervisory level

If you are an employee who considers your work to be unsafe based on the definition above, you should:

  1. Report the unsafe work refusal to your supervisor immediately.
  2. Remain in a safe place nearby and be available for questions.
  3. Following this, either the issue is resolved and the employee goes back to work, or the issue is not resolved and the issue escalates to stage 2.

If you are a supervisor who is informed by an employee that they consider work unsafe, you should:

  1. Contact the Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) worker co-chair or member and Environmental Health and Safety (EHS).
  2. Together with a JHSC worker member and EHS team member, investigate the situation to understand the employee’s reasons for refusal.
  3. Resolve the issue by eliminating the hazard through applying the necessary controls.
  4. Communicate back to the employee what controls have been implemented to eliminate the hazards.

Stage 2: Resolving the issue through the Ministry of Labour

This stage is initiated if after initial investigation, the employee still believes the work or conditions are unsafe. In this case, the director of EHS will escalate the situation to the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) to investigate.

If you are an employee, you should:

  1. Continue to refuse unsafe work.
  2. Continue to remain in a safe place nearby and be available for questions.

If you are a supervisor, you should:

  1. Follow the directions of EHS.
  2. Assign a different task to the employee refusing work. You may offer the refused work to another worker, but you must inform them, in the presence of a JHSC worker member, that the offered work is the subject of work refusal.

Get support

Any questions related to refusal of unsafe work can be directed to Environmental Health and Safety at or 416-979-5000, ext. 553770.