Refusing Unsafe Work: A Team Effort

Helping your young worker understand there is support in place should they face what they believe is unsafe.

You’ve raised a smart kid. They know climbing a ladder that is broken is risky; that spraying chemicals without a mask is dangerous. They also know they have the right to refuse doing these jobs.

But they might be too smart for their own good. They might also think that if they refuse to do what their supervisors ask they may put themselves in a position where they could lose their job. A job which all their friends regard with envy.

While in most contexts, understanding the dynamics of a social situation or ‘reading the room’ is a good skill to have, in the context of safety and the workplace it can be deadly. This is where parents and other adult influencers can offer insight that could make the difference.

While they may seem brimming with confidence in dealing with familiar adult figures in their lives and certainly not afraid to speak their mind or contradict the opinion of these ‘safe’ grown ups, they may not be prepared to deal with a boss who might not be pleasant nor have their best interests in mind. Or their boss might just be so busy, they don’t realize they are asking the new kid on the floor to do something that is in fact dangerous.

This is why young workers need to be reminded of the work refusal process. And the fact that it is a process. At face value, it sounds like a worker can look at a job, decide it’s dangerous and just tell their boss – face to face – they won’t do it.

The work refusal process protects workers from this kind of confrontation. When a worker believes that a task is unsafe they have someone to go to who is there specifically to offer advice and if necessary advocate on their behalf. Any organization in Ontario with more than 5 employees must have a health and safety representative. Joint Health and Safety Committees are required by most organizations that employ larger numbers of workers – for details please visit

Once they notify their health and safety rep of their concern, it is the rep’s job to check out the situation and take action as needed. In the case of having to work with faulty equipment, it is also their job to immediately take it out of service and start a process to have it replaced.

There is a process that protects the young worker from having to deal with the situation directly. The law requires that until the situation is resolved they are given other jobs to do within the workplace which they are qualified to perform.

And your young worker needs to know that they cannot be punished for bringing this kind of situation to light. The fact of the matter is, most employers would be much happier to replace a relatively inexpensive ladder than face serious fines and other penalties for allowing unsafe activities to take place in their workplaces.

If it comes to light that your young worker is concerned about their safety, here are a few questions to get your conversation going:

Are they aware of the work refusal process?

Do they know who their JHSC rep is?

Do they fully understand how they are protected and supported by the process?

In fact their action will potentially not only save them from dealing with a hazardous situation, but all other co-workers who may be subjected to the same circumstances as well.

They will be doing a very good thing in making their workplace safe, protecting their fellow workers and that is something for a parent to be proud of.

  • Liza Donn
    Posted at 07:24h, 25 July

    Knowing and speaking about safety is the key to a safe workplace, safe worker. Good points. I will share with my working son.