You Should Never Have to Work in Hazardous Conditions. Find Out How to Refuse Unsafe Work.

When you head out to work you have the right to assume that you will come home to your family at the end of the day. That you will clock in and out without the risk of serious injury or worse and that you won’t be forced into unsafe working conditions. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. 

One of the most important ways to keep workers safe is to give them the ability to refuse unsafe work without repercussion from an employer. In 2018, Alberta updated their Occupational Health and Safety laws – something that hadn’t been done since 1976. One of the most important changes was the right of workers to refuse unsafe work.  

Here is everything you need to know about the update so that you can stay safe in the workplace.

Why Is This Important 

The wording around employees being able to say no to unsafe work in the past has been vague and confusing. This updated legislation clearly gives workers the right to refuse work that could lead to serious injury or death.  

Last year 166 people in Alberta lost their lives to workplace illness or injury, up from 144 in 2016.  

And studies suggest workers in Alberta are afraid to report injuries at work, with as many as 70 per cent of disabling workplace injuries going unreported. 

What You Should Know

The most important thing to know is that under OHS, workers have the right to refuse dangerous work and are protected from reprisal. The employer must investigate the hazard and the worker also must continue to be paid during the investigation. Employers cannot threaten any discriminatory action against you If your report unsafe work.  

You also have the right to know and the right to participate. What that means is that all workers have the right to know about potential hazards as well as be involved in health and safety discussions and committees. 

How Refusing Unsafe Work Works

Employee Obligations

If you’re being asked to perform unsafe work the first thing to do sounds obvious but is crucial. Don’t do the work.  

If the work looks dangerous, go to your employer or supervisor and tell them that you do not want to do the work and explain why. It’s at this point that they have to investigate, but unfortunately, not all employers follow the rules.  

If your employer or supervisor tells you that you must do the work or threatens you, then you should contact OHS immediately. Having a union in the workplace is an asset in this situation. You can talk to your shop steward or contact a Business Agent or union representative to stand up for your rights. Your collective agreement will also have a clear outline of what is considered safe work. Once your employer has fixed the situation or OHS has stepped in, make sure you review the written report about the incident. If the situation has still not been fixed, contact OHS or your union representative again. 

Employer Obligations

Once you have refused unsafe work, your employer must look into it and eliminate any hazards and they definitely can’t assign any other workers to it unless the worker is informed of the refusal and dangers.  

Employers must document all aspects of the incident including the worker’s notification, investigation findings and actions taken. They also must involve the joint worksite health and safety committee if there is one on the location. Employers with 20 or more workers must have this. If they have any questions they can contact OHS at any time.  

Workplace tragedies are devastating to workers, friends and family and they don’t always happen instantly. The inhalation of certain chemicals over time can cause disease and even death. Hazards can be present in almost any type of work environment, not necessarily just ones that have heavy equipment or physical tasks. The right to refuse unsafe work in any workplace across Alberta is crucial to keep all of us safe. 


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