How to Refuse Unsafe Work

Every worker in Nova Scotia has the right to refuse work that they believe is unsafe.

The Occupational Heath and Safety Act outlines the process that workers must follow when they refuse unsafe work and the process employers must follow when there's a work refusal.  This process is often misunderstood, so we've summarized it for you here.   Every province has a different process.  This information relates to Nova Scotia only.  But if you have any questions you can contact our office and we'll try to help.

When to refuse unsafe work

  • You can refuse unsafe work when you have reasonable grounds to believe that the work will harm you or someone.
  • Reasonable grounds means you have an honest belief the work might be dangerous.  It does not mean you have to be certain.
  • It doesn't matter if someone else disagrees with you.  They might try to tell you the work is safe and talk you into doing it.  As long as YOU believe it's unsafe, the work refusal process must be followed.

How to refuse unsafe work

  • Report the situation to your supervisor.  Tell them you are refusing the work because it's unsafe.
  • The supervisor must investigate and fix the problem to your satisfaction so you can go back to work safely.
  • Remain at work!  Go to a safe place, but do not leave.  Your employer can assign you different work to do while they investigate.
STEP TWO:  If the supervisor cannot remedy the situation to your satisfaction:
  • Report the matter to the workplace Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee (or Representative).
  • The Committee must investigate the situation and try to fix it so you can go back to work safely.
  • If they don't think the work is unsafe, they can tell you so.  If you agree with them, you can go back to work.
STEP THREE:  If your JOH&S Committee cannot remedy the situation to your satisfaction:
  • Report the matter to be reported to the Department of Labour - OH&S DIVISION at 1-800-952-2687.  There is someone available 24/7 to address your concerns.
  • The Department of Labour will investigate the situation.  They'll either fix it or tell you they think the work is safe.
  • If the Department of Labour tells you the work is safe you must return to work, even if you disagree.
  • (If you don't agree with the Department's decision you can appeal.  Call us and we can explain this process).

When does a work refusal end?

Many people think a work refusal is over when the work has been reassigned.  But it isn't! A work refusal is only over when:
  • The situation is remedied to your satisfaction, and you can return to do the work that you refused.
  • The Department of Labour investigates and decides the work is safe, and directs you to return to work.

Other things you should know:

  1. Until this work refusal process is complete, the employer cannot force you to do the work that you have refused.
  2. If you have refused unsafe work, the law requires that you continue to be paid.  The employer is allowed to assign you different work.  But even if they don't they still have to pay your wages until the process is finished.
  3. During the work refusal process in Nova Scotia, the employer may reassign the work you refused to someone else.  But they can only do that if they tell that person that 1). someone refused the work because they believe it isn't safe and 2). they also have the legal right to refuse the work.
  4. The law prohibits the employer from penalizing you for refusing unsafe work.  If you think you're being punished because you exercised your right to refuse work, you can file a complaint of Discriminatory Action under the law.
  5. Contact us if you want more information about this process or any other aspect of your right to refuse unsafe work.

Still Have Questions?

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