Q: What is the committee's role in the right to refuse?
Answered by Tom Miller, Prevention Consultant at SAFE Work Manitoba.
A: Safety and health committees play a major role in a workplace's internal responsibility system (IRS). Part of that role is involvement in right-to-refuse situations that may arise. This process is specifically outlined and referenced in the Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health Act and Regulation, but it also helps fulfil the requirement of having an internal process to work through these types of situations within a workplace. The process should include policies and procedures, with formal documentation.
The safety and health committee may get involved in steps 2 and/or 3 of the following three- step process.
Workers should report immediately to their supervisor or to any other person in charge at the workplace, giving their reasons for refusing to work. At this point, the refusing worker and supervisor must attempt to resolve the concern. If the employer resolves the matter to the worker's satisfaction, they can return to work.
If the supervisor and worker cannot resolve the issue, then someone must inspect the dangerous condition. That inspection may be done by the supervisor, the worker and one of the following: a worker co-chair of the safety and health committee or a committee member who represents workers.
If the dangerous condition is still not remedied, those present during the inspection in step 2 may notify a provincial government safety and health officer of the refusal to work and the reasons for it. The officer will investigate the matter and decide whether the job situation or task the worker has refused constitutes a danger to the safety or health of the worker, or any other worker or other person at the workplace.
Here are a few tips for committee members on right-to-refuse situations:
- Know the legislation referencing the right to refuse.
- Know each of the steps in the process.
- Document steps taken.
- Work together and take your time.
- Review processes frequently.
- Know where to go for additional resources or assistance.
- Promote awareness of the process.
To contact Workplace Safety and Health, call 204-957-SAFE (7233) in Winnipeg or toll-free: 1-855-957-SAFE (7233) and press 1.