Safety At Work

As an employee, you have the right to work in an environment that is safe of hazards that may affect your health and well-being. These rights may be governed through provincial or federal legislation, union contracts or a combination of the three.

The following links will provide you with some information regarding workplace safety and your rights, however, this information is not meant to provide you with legal advice. Contact the appropriate departments if you require assistance.

WSIB Coverage

The WSIB, or the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board promotes workplace health and safety, and provides an insurance system that compensates workers and learners who are injured on the job. This insurance is not health insurance, but rather can be thought of as income-loss compensation due to injury.

“Workers” (paid employees) are: anyone employed in a business under a contract of service or apprenticeship. In this relationship the employer sets: a) The nature and place of work b) When it is performed, and c) How it is performed.

“Learners” (unpaid trainees) are: a person who, although not under a contract of service or apprenticeship, becomes subject to the hazards of an industry for the purpose of undergoing training or probationary work. (Please note: Coverage may be offered through the employer or the training institution).

In most cases, for workers, employers are responsible for WSIB insurance coverage. There are exceptions (eg. doctors and dentists) and students are advised to review the WSIB website for a full listing of employer exemptions.  Where the employer is not legally required to provide coverage it is strongly recommended that students arrange alternate insurance prior to starting the work term.

It is imperative as a “worker” or a “learner” in Ontario (or if you are completing a co-op work term abroad) that you know whether you are covered under WSIB and by whom.  Don’t assume that you are or are not covered. If you are asked to sign a contract, ask for some time to look it over first so that you fully understand what the contract says.

Workplace Violence

On June 15th, 2010, amendments were made to Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). The amendments are commonly referred to as "Bill 168". Bill 168 further protects workers from workplace violence and workplace harassment in every workplace covered by the OHSA.

Bill 168 defines workplace violence as:

  • The exercise of physical force by a person against a worker, in a workplace, that causes or could cause physical injury to the worker,
  • An attempt to exercise physical force against a worker, in a workplace, that could cause physical injury to the worker,
  • A statement or behaviour that is reasonable for a worker to interpret as a threat to exercise physical force against the worker, in a workplace, that could cause physical injury to the worker.
- (Bill 168 Chapter 23 Statutes of Ontario, 2009)
Bill 168 defines workplace harassment as:
Engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.

Workplace harassment often involves repeated words or actions, or a pattern of behaviours, against a worker or group of workers in the workplace that are unwelcome.

This may include:

  • Making remarks, jokes or innuendos that demean, ridicule, intimidate, or offend;
  • Displaying or circulating offensive pictures or materials in print or electronic form;
  • Bullying;
  • Repeated offensive or intimidating phone calls or e-mails; or
  • Inappropriate sexual touching, advances, suggestions or requests.

This definition of workplace harassment is broad enough to include harassment prohibited under Ontario's Human Rights Code, as well as what is often called "psychological harassment" or "personal harassment." (Workplace Violence and Harassment: Understanding the Law, Ministry of Labour, page 3, March 2010)

Rights and Responsibilities

Employers must:

  • Prepare policies with respect to workplace violence and workplace harassment
  • Develop and maintain programs to implement their policies
  • Provide information and instruction to workers on the contents of these policies and programs

The policies and programs must include measures and procedures for:

  • Summoning immediate assistance when workplace violence occurs or is likely to occur
  • Controlling risks identified in the assessment of risks
  • Workers have the same rights and responsibilities under the OHSA for violence prevention as they do for other hazards in the workplace

Employees must:

  • Report potential workplace hazards to employers
  • Work Refusal

Under the legislation, workers have the right to refuse work if they have reason to believe they are in danger of workplace violence. The Act sets out a specific procedure that must be followed in a work refusal.

Reprisals by employers (penalizing, dismissing, disciplining, suspending or threatening to do any of these things to a worker exercising their rights, including the right to refuse unsafe work under the OHSA) remain prohibited. (Ministry of Labour, May 2010)

Additional Resources

For further information, or to speak with a representative about your personal situation, please see the following resources: