Chapter 5: Workplace Safety
The first thing you should know as a new worker are your rights and responsibilities. You also need to know the rights and responsibilities of employer, supervisor, and business owner. In some cases, these roles might be the same person but in others, this may be three different people.
In terms of workplace safety, a right is something that you are legally entitled to and a responsibility is a duty or something you are accountable for.
According to WorkSafeBC (2021a), workers have three key rights:
- The right to know about hazards in the workplace
- The right to participate in health and safety activities in the workplace
- The right to refuse unsafe work (WorkSafeBC, 2021a)
This means the owner and/or employer has the responsibility of alerting workers like you to hazards of the job. For example, if you are a cook, you may get burned or if you are a tree planter, you may encounter wildlife. Some hazards, as in these two examples, are obvious and something most people would recognize as hazards. However, there may be hazards that are not obvious. Have you ever tripped on a computer cord? It’s no fun at all and could lead to an injury.
Niko just started at a paint store. The store has a sales floor with a cashier, paint mixing station, and various displays of paint, brushes, stains, and other products. The store also includes a back warehouse for employees only where pallets of extra cans of paint and other goods are stored. In Niko’s case, what do you think some of the hazards of his workplace at Paint 4 Less could be?
Use the following interactive activity to point out some of Niko’s workplace hazards.
- Ladders are commonly used in a number of work settings and they are a frequent source of injuries in the workplace.
- Lifting injuries can occur in many occupations. Workers are exposed to risk of injury when they lift, lower, or carry objects.
- Eye injuries can happen when you are required to mix paints or chemicals, safety eyewear is to be provided by your employer.
- Cutting injuries can happen easily, be careful with cutting tools such as scissors and box cutters. Only use tools and equipment you have been trained to use safely.
- Aggressive customer interactions can happen. In retail settings, your employer may have procedures in place that enable a worker to call a manager or mall security if a customer bullies and harasses workers.
Some unmentioned hazards that could also exist in Niko’s workplace are: fumes, working alone, closing the shop, tripping, electrical shock.
You also have responsibilities to help keep your workplace safe. These require you to be active and engaged. Even though you are a work-integrated learning student, you are accountable for your actions. Be safe, be prepared, and follow the rules that are communicated to you either verbally or in writing. Be sure to read all the safety and orientation material that you are given. Sometimes employers will require that you sign off on information, in other words, sign a statement saying you read and understood the document given to you. . These responsibilities are common to all workplaces, whether you are working at a desk, in customer service, at a construction site, in a warehouse, or anywhere else.
- Look for hazards. Your most important responsibility is to look for hazards and report any concerns right away to the person in charge (WorkSafeBC, 2021a).
- Follow the rules. You also need to do your job in a safe way, which means obeying the rules and following all standards.
- Wear the safety equipment. In addition to behaving safely, you also need to correctly wear the appropriate personal protective equipment, which we will discuss further in the chapter. You also need to cooperate with all workplace safety personnel, including joint health and safety committees, workplace safety representatives, WorkSafeBC prevention officers, and anyone conducting health and safety duties.
- Report injuries or other problems. Another one of your responsibilities that is less obvious is to quickly treat any injury that occurs on the job as well as report this to the appropriate person. Additionally, you are responsible for ensuring that any medical treatment personnel understand that this is a workplace injury and to follow the treatment plan set out for you. You also have a responsibility to not re-injure yourself which may mean returning to work when it is safe to do so and with modified duties if appropriate.
- Only go to work when you are fit to work safely. Your final worker responsibility involves being fit and able to perform the duties of your job, therefore “never work under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or any other substance.” This also means that you should not work if you are overtired and cannot perform your duties safely (WorkSafeBC, 2021a).
Check your understanding of roles and responsibilities by thinking about Niko. What are his rights and responsibilities at Paint 4 Less?
Fill in the missing words with determining whether the statement is Niko’s right or responsibility.
- Niko should complete paid WHMIS training at work. This is Niko’s .
- Niko should call in sick if he is exhausted or is taking a drug that impairs his judgment. This is Niko’s .
- If Niko slipped on spilled paint in the warehouse, Niko should tell the hospital staff that his accident took place at work. This is Niko’s .
- Niko should identify any spills, chemicals, or fumes that should not be present in the store font. This is Niko’s .
Due Diligence and Workplace Safety
You have rights and responsibilities when it comes to being safe. However, your boss and the other people in charge also have an important role to play in keeping you safe. Your employer must take due diligence. This means that they must ensure that all reasonable measures have been taken to provide a safe workplace. If any risks or hazards are reported to an employer, they must carry out measures to ensure that the hazard or risk has been eliminated or there are precautions in place to reduce the risk.
Here are a few of the key responsibilities that are related to due diligence. These are the safety responsibilities of the various leadership groups at your average workplace.
An owner is the person who owns the business or workplace. The owner is responsible for:
- Maintaining the business premises in a healthy and safe condition.
- Disclosing to employees and any contract workers potential hazards in and around the workplace that need to be eliminated or controlled.
An employer is a person or company that hires workers or unregistered subcontractors. An employer can be a self-employed proprietor, partnership, corporation, society, or any other type of legal entity (WorkSafeBC, 2021b). The employer is responsible for:
- Establishing an occupational health and safety program.
- Training or ensuring their employees are trained to do their work safely and have proper supervision.
- Ensuring the workplace has adequate first aid equipment, supplies, and trained attendants on site to handle injuries.
- Ensuring the workplace is regularly inspected for health and safety concerns.
- Fixing any problems reported by workers.
- Transporting injured workers to the appropriate medical treatment location.
- Reporting all injuries that require medical attention to WorkSafeBC.
- Investigating incidents where workers are injured or equipment is damaged.
- Submitting the necessary forms to WorkSafeBC.
A supervisor is the person responsible for others at work. WorksafeBC defines a supervisor as “a person who instructs, directs, and controls workers in the performance of their duties. A supervisor can be any worker – management or staff – who meets this definition, whether or not [they] have the supervisor title. If someone in the workplace has a supervisor’s responsibilities, that person is responsible for worker health and safety” (WorkSafeBC, 2021a). The supervisor is responsible for:
- Ensuring the health and safety of all workers under their direct supervision.
- Knowing the WorkSafeBC requirements that apply to the work under their supervision and ensure those requirements are met.
- Ensuring workers under their supervision are aware of all known hazards.
- Ensuring workers under their supervision have the appropriate PPE, which is being used properly, regularly inspected, and maintained (WorkSafeBC, 2021a).
Prime Contractor Responsibilities
A prime contractor is the person in charge at a work site. WorksafeBC defines it as when “there are two or more employers working at the same time, a written agreement should identify a prime contractor” or the person who is liable and responsible for the workplace health and safety is defined by WorkSafeBC (WorkSafeBC, 2021a). The prime contractor is responsible for:
- Coordinating the occupational health and safety activities of all employers, workers, and anyone else at the workplace.
- Establishing and maintaining procedures to ensure occupational health and safety requirements at the workplace are followed by all parties (WorkSafeBC, 2021a).
Instructor Support for Workplace Safety
You can also work with your instructor to help keep you safe at work. WorkSafeBC does not recognize the role or responsibility of instructors. However, in a work-integrated learning context, these authority figures are there to support you and help you reflect on safety at work.
In class, this means your instructor is responsible for the safety of your classroom. In a work-integrated learning context, this also means your instructor will introduce you to workplace safety, and help you with questions you might have about safety as you prepare for and complete your work term. Your class can be a safe place to debrief any incidents you encounter and to help you prepare for your work site. Use reflection, group work, and consultations with your instructor as additional supports to help you stay safe at work.
Use this activity to check your understanding of the roles and responsibilities. You do not need to memorize these but know where to find the information that you need.
Based on the following statements determine if the answer is role and responsibility of an employer, employee, supervisor, or owner. Type your answers in the blank boxes.
- There is a huge piece of the concrete missing on the stairs going into the shop. This is the role and responsibility of the .
- Wear the eye protection provided when tinting paint. This is the role and responsibility of the .
- Provide eye wash solution in case of an injury. This is the role and responsibility of the .
- Ensures that employees use the proper protective equipment provided. This is the role and responsibility of the .
Back at Paint 4 Less Paint, Niko has finished his training and Ben, to help Niko learn the layout of the store, asks Niko to stock the shelves. This task requires Niko to use a box cutter to open boxes and a ladder to reach the top shelves.
Go to the WorkSafeBC website and find the document called Safe Ladder Use.
Which of the following rules listed in the document?
- Always face the ladder.
- Always carry heavy, bulky, or hazardous materials when climbing a ladder.
- Use a three-point contact climbing method.
- It is acceptable for two workers to be on the same ladder at the same time.
- Never stand on the top two rungs of the ladder.
In addition to the Safe Ladder Use rules, Ben reminds Niko to always inspect the ladder to ensure that it is in good working order and to report any concerns to one of the managers. Ben reminds Niko to use a proper lifting posture when lifting the boxes and not to lift more than feels comfortable.
For more information and practice on using a ladder safely, take the WorkSafeBC Ladder Challenge.
Personal Protective Equipment
Personal protective equipment, often referred to as PPE, is clothing or equipment used to provide protection against hazardous substances or environments that could cause injury or infection. PPE is usually used against physical hazards that can range from poor weather to electric shock, heat either from a heat source or working in the heat, and chemicals, biohazards, and airborne particles, such as sawdust. PPE varies depending upon the worker’s role or industry but can include hard hats, work gloves, high visibility vests, steel toed work boots, or protective eyewear depending upon the work involved.
Who Pays for PPE?
Always check with your jurisdiction. In British Columbia, the worker is responsible for wearing appropriate clothing for the weather conditions and the general work conditions such as work gloves, appropriate footwear, and a hard hat when necessary. The employer is required to provide and pay for any other PPE required by workers (CCOHS, 2021). If the worker feels that they need additional equipment which is not sanctioned by WorkSafeBC, it is the responsibility of the worker to get the employer’s permission and to supply this equipment at their own cost.
Ben feels that Niko is making good progress and encourages Niko to work with the other staff while he returns to his office to work on some paperwork. A customer comes in to have some paint tinted. This is a great opportunity for Niko to put into practice the lesson shown to him earlier today. When he goes to put on a pair of work gloves and eye protection before opening the paint can, one of the other workers tells him he doesn’t need the glove or eye protection, that it wastes too much time stopping to put those on every time you tint paint. Niko feels conflicted, this morning when Ben showed him how to tint paint, Ben instructed Niko to always wear the gloves and eye protection. What should Niko do? He doesn’t want to make a fuss or seem weak.
Niko is right to question the advice not to wear the gloves and eye protection. Remember the statistic about the majority of workplace accidents occurring to new workers early in their job. Think about the roles, rights, and responsibilities for workplace safety, what are Niko’s rights and responsibilities? Do any of these apply to this situation?
One way to cope with this situation is for Niko to say that as a new employee he should follow the rules as laid out to him. He could check with Ben after the situation to ensure that he understood correctly, and Ben may need to remind the other workers of the importance of safety equipment and personal protective equipment.
- Know about hazards in the workplace
- Participate in health and safety activities
- Refuse unsafe work
- Beware of hazards and report them immediately to the appropriate person
- Follow safe work procedures and act safely
- Use the personal protective equipment provided properly
- Cooperate with health and safety personnel
- Get treatment for injuries an informed health professional that it is a workplace injury
- Return to work safely after an injury with modified work duties if needed
- Never work under the influence of alcohol drugs or any substance or if you’re overtired