Work Refusals. How to manage & document them within your company

Occupational Health & Safety Consultant at 100% Safety Inc.


FD: The Right to Refuse Work seems to be a hot topic in OH&S currently. Are there new regulations in place pushing this to the forefront?

Alex: The 2018 updates to Alberta Occupational Health & Safety Act added the requirements in Part 4 – Dangerous Work and Discriminatory Action. 31(7) states that if an employer receives a work refusal, and assigns another worker to complete that work, the employer shall advise that worker in writing of:

  • The first worker’s refusal
  • The reasons for the refusal
  • The reason why, in the opinion of the employer, the work does not constitute a danger to the health and safety of any person or that a dangerous condition is not present, and
  • That worker’s right to refuse to do dangerous work under this section

Subsection 31(8) of the Act also has a requirement that a written report of the work refusal shall be prepared, along with and any actions taken to remedy the unsafe condition. This report, under 31(9), is required to have a copy given to the worker who first refused the work, the Joint Health and Safety Committee (if one exists) and the health and safety representative (if one exists).

FD: Why is this something employers should be educating themselves on?

Alex: Although workers have always had a right to refuse unsafe work, this legislation further solidifies that right and provides procedural clarity on how to effectively document when these things happen. This is important for employers because if the employer does not complete the report and the conditions are not remedied, the worker who refused the work or any other person present during the inspection may file a complaint with an OH&S officer.
If the unsafe conditions get to this point, the OH&S officer will request to see the report, and decide if the condition is safe or unsafe, and may then levy orders from the Alberta government (such as Stop Work Orders) if there are in fact unsafe conditions.
These reports are imperative when an employer enters into this type of situation to ensure they can prove due diligence by receiving the complaint in writing, and rectifying the complaint in writing.

FD: If an employee feels at risk and wants to refuse work, what is the procedure?

Alex: The procedure for reporting would be employer specific, such as who to report to; however, the Act states in section 31(1) “a worker may refuse to work or to do particular work at a work site if the worker believes on reasonable grounds that there is a dangerous condition at the work site or that the work constitutes a danger to the worker’s health and safety or to the health and safety of another worker or another person.
A worker who refuses to work or to do particular work under subsection (1) shall promptly report the refusal and the reasons for it to the worker’s employer or supervisor or to another person designated by the employer or supervisor.”

FD: What is the purpose of documenting the work refusal? And how is it retained / used by the employer?

Alex: The purpose of the documentation is for due diligence. “If it is not written down, it didn’t happen” is a popular saying in the health and safety field. It is also a requirement of the Act to document, in writing, any report of and remedy of a report of dangerous work.

FD: What should a standard “Work Refusal Report” form contain?

Alex: If we follow what is in Part 4 of the Act, the form should have:

  • Worker’s name
  • Reasons for the work refusal
  • Person reported to (as the Act states to report to employer, supervisor, or persons designated by the employer or supervisor)
  • Results of the inspection of the work refused
  • Any remedies made to improve/mitigate the dangerous condition (this could follow the same format as the company’s incident investigation forms)
  • Complaint Resolution information

It should also include an area to verify if the complaint was resolved (with sign-off). If the complaint was not resolved, information on when OH&S was contacted and who at OH&S was talked to. It should also include a sign-off space for the company’s Joint Health and Safety Committee or Worker Safety Representative, if one exists within the organization.



* Much of the contents of this Q&A reference Alberta’s Occupational Health & Safety Act. While legislation is similar in other Canadian provinces, it is recommended you check with your local provincial safety legislation to ensure Work Refusal policy compliance should you operate outside of Alberta.

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