your questions answered

Every day, 26 young people are hurt at work in B.C. And every week, 13 young workers suffer a serious injury. The injury rate for male workers aged 15 to 24 is much higher than the overall injury rate. Most of this happens in what appear to be safe workplaces, like restaurants and retail stores. Your safety is definitely worth asking about, both during your hiring interview, and if necessary, during each every shift you work.
Most bosses know that safety pays off. Accidents and worker injuries cause employers a lot of trouble, and they appreciate it when a worker asks or tells them about safety hazards. They know good safety is good business for everyone.

Your boss can't read your mind, so if you're not clear about doing something safely, always ask. Saying you're not sure or uncomfortable can be hard, even for experienced workers. But it's absolutely worth it to keep from getting hurt. Taking risks is dumb, and smart employers know it; they'll respect you for asking.

Think of supervisors like teachers; they may like it when people recognize their expertise and ask for advice. Approach them respectfully; speak confidently, and say something like:

  • "I like working with this equipment, but there's a lot to remember. Can you spare a few minutes to go over it again?"
  • "I think I've got the hang of this, but can you watch to make sure I'm doing everything right?"
  • "I'm a little uncomfortable with this. Could you explain it to me again?"
It's against the law to be fired for refusing unsafe work. If you’re part of a union, and this happens to you, talk to your shop steward. If you’re not in a union, contact WorkSafeBC's Prevention Division at 1-888-621-7233. You can also contact the BC Ministry of Labour’s Employment Standards Branch at 1-800-661-8773 or online.
If you're uncomfortable speaking directly to your co-workers, you can talk to your supervisor and/or employer about your concerns. You can also anonymously call WorkSafeBC's Prevention Line at 1-888-621-7233.

Young people are safest at work when they ask questions, are given proper training and orientation, and exercise their right to refuse unsafe work.

Feelings of inadequacy in the workplace can stem from a number of things. If you feel inadequate around peers because you don’t know how to perform the work, ask your supervisors for more training it’s their legal responsibility to provide it.

If you feel inadequate because you lack experience, rest assured your skills will grow and improve with time. Again, if at any time you feel that your work isn’t safe, ask your employer to demonstrate how to do the job safely. Not knowing how to work safely and being afraid to ask can have dangerous and potentially fatal consequences.

WorkSafeBC has a number of resources that reinforce these messages and suggest ways that young workers can ask their employers important questions to stay safe. WorkSafeBCs brochure called Getting a Job can help you get started asking your employer safety-related questions.

The WorkSafeBC Speakers Series is also an excellent resource for young people with questions about working safely. Through WorkSafeBC schools can arrange for young workers who have experienced traumatic and life-changing workplace injuries to visit classrooms and speak to students about what can happen when young workers are not aware of hazards, or have not received proper training. Watch this video to see the story of one such injured young worker in the WorkSafeBC Speakers Series.

If this response does not adequately address your question, please reply with a more specific question. You can also contact the New and Younger Worker Team directly at yworker@worksafebc.com or phone 604-276-3100 in the Lower Mainland, or toll-free in British Columbia at 1-888-621-7233 (621-SAFE).

The law (Occupational Health and Safety Regulation) requires your employer to provide training and orientation that includes.

  • Name/contact information for your supervisor
  • Workplace safety-related rights and responsibilities both yours and your employers
  • Safety rules relevant to your worksite
  • All hazards you might be exposed to while working
  • Procedures ensuring your safety if you are required to work alone or in isolation
  • Procedures ensuring your safety if you could be exposed to violence in the workplace
  • Personal protective equipment: what is needed, how to use it, and how to care for it
  • Location of first-aid facility at your worksite, how to seek first-aid treatment, and your obligation to report any workplace related illness or injury?
  • Emergency procedures for your workplace
  • Instruction and demonstration (the latter is very important) of all tasks and processes that your job requires
  • Your employers health and safety program
  • Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) training, including information on hazardous materials you might be exposed to, how to protect yourself, what do you do it case of an emergency or spill, and where to get more information about the product
  • Contact information on your workplaces Joint Health and Safety Committee or the safety representative at your worksite?

Orientation and training must be provided before you start work. If you have been trained but still do not fully understand the topic, ask your employer for additional training, which they must provide by law. Make sure that all orientation and training is documented meaning that you sign or initial a document (e.g., a checklist) that clearly summarizes the orientation and training topics covered, and acknowledges that you understand everything you were trained on?

For more information, check out WorkSafeBC's online resources for young workers.

If you feel that you have not received full, adequate, and proper health and safety training and orientation, your right to work safely has been violated. For information and assistance call you can anonymously call WorkSafeBC's Prevention Information line at 1-888-621-7233.

Employers are required to keep workers safe by ensuring they are made aware of workplace hazards and by remedying any hazardous workplace conditions.

The best option is to eliminate the hazard. This might involve adding enclosures or barriers to isolate the risk to workers, installing mufflers on noisy equipment, or implementing other controls to change the environment. When it isn’t possible to eliminate the hazard, employers should minimize the risk to workers. Risk reduction can be achieved by adopting new procedures to lessen the exposure — adding rest breaks or rotating jobs to make sure the worker has breaks from a more hazardous task, for instance. As a last resort, employers should ensure workers have appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE) — masks, knee pads, gloves, goggles, or protective coveralls, for example. PPE, though often necessary, is viewed as the least effective control measure as the worker is still exposed to the risk factor.

A key factor in protecting workers from hazards is to ensure they receive proper training and orientation. In 2007, the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation was amended to include regulations around the training and orientation of young and new workers.

The regulation requires employers to carry out site-specific health and safety training and orientation before an employee begins work in that workplace. This will help to identify hazards to which young or new workers may be exposed. Employers are expected to cover 13 topics during orientation, including rights and responsibilities, hazard identification, and violence in the workplace, among others. Under the legislation, employers must also provide workers with additional training and orientation if required or requested. They must also maintain records of all orientation and training provided.

Details of the regulation, including orientation and training topics, are outlined in Section 3.22 to 3.25 of the Regulation.

You have a legal right to refuse unsafe work. It can be a hard thing to do, but sometimes it's necessary. Most employers will listen when you talk to them about safety concerns. If you encounter one who does not, remember that the law protects workers who report hazards or refuse unsafe work. It is against the law for employer to fire you or punish you in any way for refusing or reporting unsafe work.

To quote the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation: "A person must not carry out or cause to be carried out any work process or operate or cause to be operated any tool, appliance or equipment if that person has reasonable cause to believe that to do so would create an undue hazard to the health and safety of any person." Furthermore, it states that "a worker who refuses to carry out a work process or operate a tool, appliance or equipment...must immediately report the circumstances of the unsafe condition to his or her supervisor or employer." At this point, it is up to the supervisor or employer to immediately investigate the matter and ensure that any unsafe condition is remedied without delay or advise the person reporting the unsafe condition that their report is not valid.

In simpler terms, here is the basic protocol to follow for refusing unsafe work:

  • If a task feels unsafe, tell your immediate supervisor and explain why you're not comfortable. In many cases, the issue will be resolved at this stage.
  • If you don't get a satisfactory answer from your immediate supervisor, or that person is not available, go to their supervisor.
  • If you're still not satisfied, ask your safety representative, a member of the safety committee, or a shop steward.
  • Most problems are solved before getting to this stage, but if you cannot resolve your issue, contact WorkSafeBC. Phone and explain your safety concerns. You can even do this anonymously. Call 604-276-3100 in the Lower Mainland or toll-free 1-888-621-7233. At this point an officer from WorkSafeBC will look into the matter.

The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulation is one of the regulations in force under the Workers Compensation Act. The OHS Regulation contains legal requirements that must be met by all workplaces under the inspection jurisdiction of WorkSafeBC. The purpose of the OHS Regulation is to promote occupational health and safety and to protect workers and other persons present at workplaces from work-related risks to their health, safety and well-being.

The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulation is available here.

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