Ask the Safety Expert: How do I talk to a worker who isn’t following our workplace’s COVID-19 prevention measures?

Ask the Safety Expert: How do I talk to a worker who isn’t following our workplace’s COVID-19 prevention measures?

​​​​​Rick Rennie: Ask the Safety Expert

​Q: How do I talk to a worker who isn't following our workplace's COVID-19 prevention measures? Is it the safety and health committee's role to enforce these measures?​ 

Thank you for the question. Committee members, as leaders in promoting workplace safety and health, can play a role in addressing situations where a worker does not follow COVID-19 prevention measures. This is especially so for worker members of a committee, who can engage other workers as peers.

One approach committee members can take in this situation is to remind the worker that all workers' actions have an effect on others in the workplace. This is particularly true of more experienced or long-term workers, who provide an example to less experienced or newer workers. When a worker does not follow prevention measures, they are sending a message that this kind of behaviour is acceptable. This erodes the safety culture of the workplace, and also places other workers at risk, as they may feel pressured to copy that behaviour.

The basic message of such a conversation is that anyone in the workplace can be a leader and can influence others. The right conversation can help the worker feel empowered to influence things in a positive way, and convince them of their moral obligation to their fellow workers.

Another option might be described as the more formal approach, relying on the specific duties of the worker and the committee.

A key role of the committee is ensuring the Internal Responsibility System (IRS) is functioning effectively. The IRS is the foundation of workplace safety and health. The IRS means that all parties in the workplace, including employers, supervisors and workers, have responsibilities for workplace safety and health.

The worker needs to understand that they have a duty under the Workplace Safety and Health Act to protect themselves and their fellow workers, and to co-operate with the workplace safety and health committee in carrying out its duties.

The worker should also be reminded that the committee has a responsibility to identify unsafe working conditions and bring them to the attention of management to ensure they are addressed. This could include a situation where a worker refuses to follow prevention measures. The committee does not, however, have any role in enforcing these measures.

While the second approach is always an option, the first approach is preferable as it empowers the worker to change. Furthermore, the first approach has the potential to create a new positive role model for others in the workplace.

​​Rick Rennie is the Safety Culture Specialist at SAFE Work Manitoba.

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