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How to Stay Safe at Work

As an employee, you never expect to get sick or injured while you are at work.  Unfortunately, it happens every day.  Employers are responsible for keeping their employees safe and they can face stiff penalties if they don't fulfill their obligations.  However, it is important that you always take responsibility for your own safety.  A good place to start is to be aware of your rights and responsibilities as a worker:

In Ontario, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, workers have three rights:

1.  The right to participate in the health and safety process.  As a worker, you have the right to either join the Joint Health and Safety Committee or to bring any relevant concerns to their attention.  The Joint Health and Safety Committee is a group of worker and management representatives that discusses health and safety concerns, reviews progress, and makes recommendations on health and safety issues. 

2.  The right to refuse unsafe work.  Any worker may refuse work if they believe it to be unsafe to either themselves or to another worker. 

3.  The right to know about workplace hazards.  Workers have the right to know about potential hazards to which they may be exposed.  This includes the right to receive training about the safe use of machinery, equipment and processes.  A significant part of this right relates to the right to know about hazardous substances at the workplace.  Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is a national information system that was designed to provide workers and employers with essential information about using, handling and storing hazardous materials in the workplace. 

With these rights comes responsibility.  The Occupational Health and Safety Act imposes obligations on workers including the duty to:

1.  Comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act and its regulations.

2.  Use any equipment, protective device or clothing required by the employer.

3.  Report any missing or defective equipment or protective device that may be dangerous.

4.  Report any known workplace hazard.

5.  Refuse to engage in any prank, contest, feat of strength, unnecessary running, or rough and boisterous conduct.

So now that you are aware of your rights and responsibilities as a worker, what does this mean to you?  Here are a few tips that will help you stay safe at work:

Get Informed.  Pay attention when you are at the training.  Read the information that is sent to you.  The more information that you have, the more you can protect yourself.

Get Involved.   Join the Joint Health and Safety Committee and be engaged at their meetings.  The more you are involved, the more you will know about the hazards at your work.

Use Common Sense.  Don't disable safety features and don't take unnecessary risks at work.  You are the one who is most likely to be harmed by these actions. 

Know Your Rights.  If you are ever unclear about your rights, visit the Ontario Ministry of Labour website.  When you know exactly what an employer is and is not allowed to do, it is much harder for them to bully you. 

At the end of the day, always pay attention to your gut instincts.  If something seems unsafe, it probably is.  If you aren't sure, then don't do it.  You can always get another job but workplace accidents can be fatal. 

(Written by Karen Bivand, Image by