Despite what some people say they feel, it is my personal observation that 90 per cent of people like to work and that the work they do is a critical part of their life experience.
Most look forward to retiring, however, many do not stay retired for long but return to work in some way, shape or form after only a few months of leisure.
In this context then, the Workplace Safety and Health Act is an important statute. It codifies the safety and health expectations in a workplace. On my reading, sadly, it does not seem to apply to volunteers.
The legislation is written to ensure duties of employers, supervisors, workers, self-employed persons and owners of worksites are clearly laid out. Not surprisingly, they include the need to take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of workers, to use the supplied safety devices and protective clothing as well. The duties of consultation and co-operation are important for health and safety under the Workplace Safety and Health Act and of course, communication is key for a safe work environment. It is built into the act that anticipation of risk is critical and action is required to reduce risk where it exists. A pitching deck of a boat fishing on Lake Winnipeg surely must have life vests and safety lines for workers before launching the boat, for example.
Where the workplace and worker population is large enough, a safety and health committee must be set up, maintained and used.
One interesting note is that suppliers of tools, devices or substances to workers at workplaces under the act are under a duty to ensure the item is safe when used as directed, and to ensure the item complies with the legislation and that instructions for use are supplied. So if you supply, for example, chemicals or fertilizer or paint sprayers on a sale or rental basis to worksites, be aware of this provision.
All parties subject to this act must provide relevant information regarding safety and health to all other parties involved. A prime contractor has to ensure workers, owners, and site visitors have any needed information to assist them in meeting their duties under the act so as to comply with the health and safety requirements.
Perhaps glue is being used to lay a floor, so ventilation and fire-alert warning signs should be up to warn all present at a worksite.
A provincially-appointed safety and health officer can make improvement orders, issue stop work warnings, and order remedial measures be taken where unsafe conditions are found. If a worker reasonably believes the work constitutes a danger to health or safety, that worker can refuse the work and she must be then immediately report the situation to the employer or supervisor. The worker is still entitled to pay and the employer may reassign the worker. An employer must not ask workers to work in unhealthy or unsafe conditions. For example, grocery clerks need not work where the check stand is beside large open doors when it is -40 C and their area is very chilly.
Any worker reporting unsafe conditions or refusing unhealthy work cannot be discriminated against in any way. If there is retaliation by the employer, the worker should report it to a safety and health officer appointed under the legislation.
The Workplace Safety and Health Act applies to the Crown as well.
» Doug Paterson is a lawyer with Paterson, Patterson, Wyman and Abel, with offices in Brandon, Neepawa and Virden.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 28, 2012