Work your rights was developed to be a one stop website for young workers looking for answers to their questions about occupational health and safety and labour standards.
Health and Safety
1.0 Occupational Health and Safety
1.1 Types of Hazards
What is a hazard?
A hazard is something that is likely to cause harm or injury. We recognize many hazards by their WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) symbol.
Types of Hazards
A. Physical – the most common type of hazard; something you can see or be physically affected by (*Keep in mind that hair, jewelry, and loose clothing can be dangerous)
a. Being crushed by equipment
b. Tripping or falling
c. Spills d. Improper lifting techniques
B. Biological – comes from working with people, animals, or infectious plant material
a. Insect bites
b. Animal droppings
c. Blood or other bodily fluids
d. Being in contact with materials where viruses or bacteria are present
C. Chemical – comes from being exposed to any chemical in the workplace (remember even household chemicals like bleach can be very dangerous if mishandled)
a. Vapours and fumes from chemicals
b. Carbon monoxide
d. Burns and absorption into the skin
D. Ergonomic – occurs when the type of work you do, your body position, and/or your working conditions put a strain on your body ( these are difficult to identify because you don’t immediately recognize the harm they do to your health, being aware of the potential damage you could sustain from your job is an important step in preventing ergonomic injuries)
a. Poor lighting
b. Improperly adjusted workstations or chairs
c. Frequent/improper lifting
d. Repetitive or awkward movements
e. Shift work/working hours
1.2 Identifying Hazards
Another way to look at health and safety in your workplace is to ask yourself the following questions. (these are examples only. You may find other items or situations that can be a hazard.)
What materials or situations do I come into contact with? (examples below)
- chemicals (liquids, gases, solids, mists, vapours, etc.)
- temperature extremes of heat or cold (e.g., bakeries, foundries, meat processing)
- ionizing/non-ionizing radiation (e.g., x-rays, ultraviolet (sun) rays)
- oxygen deficiency
What materials or equipment could I be struck by? (examples below)
- moving objects (e.g., forklifts, overhead cranes, vehicles)
- flying objects (e.g., sparks or shards from grinding)
- falling material (e.g., equipment from above)
What objects or equipment could I strike or hit my body upon, or that part of my body might be caught in, on, or between? (examples below)
- stationary or moving objects
- protruding objects
- sharp or jagged edges
- pinch points on machines (places where parts are very close together)
- objects that stick out (protrude)
- moving objects (conveyors, chains, belts, ropes, etc.)
What could I fall from? (e.g., falls to lower levels) (examples below)
- objects, structures, tanks, silos, lofts
- ladders, overhead walkways
- trees, cliffs
What could I slip or trip on? (e.g., falls on same level) (examples below)
- obstructions on floor, stairs
- surface issues (wet, oily, icy)
- footwear that is in poor condition
How could I overexert myself? (examples below)
- repetitive motions
What other situations could I come across?
- unknown/unauthorized people in area
- a potentially violent situation
- working alone
- confined space
- missing/damaged materials
- new equipment/procedure at work site
chemical spill or release
1.3 Three Rights
A. The Right to Know
You have the right to know; as a worker, you have the right to know about hazards in your workplace that could affect your safety or health. You have the right to know if a worker has refused to do the task that you are being asked to do because they felt it was unnecessarily unsafe.
Exercising the right to know:
- Ask about the hazards you may be exposed to
- Ask about the safety procedures surrounding the hazards in your workplace
- Ask for orientation and adequate training for equipment you will be using
- Ask who the worker representatives on your workplace OH&S committee are and ask them about hazards and safety in your workplace
B. The Right to Participate
You have the right to participate; as a worker, you have a say regarding parts of your job that affect your health and safety. You have the right to participate in identifying and reducing workplace hazards. You have the right to participate in any and all training that enables you to do your job safely, including training on equipment you may be asked to use.
Exercising the right to participate:
- Get involved with your OH&S Committee by attending meetings and suggesting ways to make your workplace safer
- Actively ask for training on any equipment you may be asked to use
- Take any and all safety training offered by your employer
Quick Facts: Your employer must provide you with any personal protective equipment you need to do your job safely and avoid injury (examples below)
- Hearing protection
- Safety glasses
- Safety vest
- Steel toe boots
C. The Right to Refuse
You have the right to refuse; Workers have the right to refuse unsafe work. If you have reasonable cause to believe that performing a job or task puts you or someone else at risk, you must not perform the job or task. Any task that you have not been trained to do properly and safely should be refused until you feel that you have the tools to complete the task safely. As a worker, you have the right to refuse to perform a specific job or task you believe is unsafe without being disciplined by your employer. Your employer or supervisor may temporarily assign a new task to you, at no loss in pay.
Exercising your right to refuse:
The right to refuse is the most challenging right to exercise, here are a few ways that you can refuse unsafe work if you’re unsure if your employer will comply with your refusal.
- Approaching refusal using I statements that express that you believe you will hurt yourself humanises the situation beyond the refusal to do the work.
“I feel like I’m going to burn myself if I empty the oil that way”
“ I don’t know how to use the equipment and I feel like I will hurt myself if I try to operate it”
- If you don’t feel that your employer will take your refusal seriously or listen to you ask a worker that is on the OH&S committee to help you with the refusal. The folks on the committee are actively involved in hazard identification and injury prevention, find one that you trust and have them refuse on your behalf. The employer may listen to them over a young worker or new worker.
1.4 Mental health in the workplace
A. What is mental health?
Mental health is a state of well-being in which a person understands his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.
Both physical and mental health are the result of a complex interplay between many individual and environmental factors, including:
- family history of illness and disease/genetics
- lifestyle and health behaviours (e.g., smoking, exercise, substance use)
- levels of personal and workplace stress
- exposure to toxins
- exposure to trauma
- personal life circumstances and history
- access to supports (e.g., timely healthcare, social supports)
- coping skills
B. What is a psychologically safe workplace?
The concept of “psychological safety” involves preventing injury to the mental well-being of workers. A psychologically safe and healthy workplace is one that promotes workers' mental well-being and does not harm employee mental health through negligent, reckless or intentional ways. (example: a psychologically safe workplace would be free of excessive fear or chronic anxiety)
C. Risk factors that affect your mental health at work:
When the demands placed on someone exceed their resources and coping abilities, their mental health will be negatively affected. Exposure to workplace bullying is associated with psychological complaints, depression, burnout, anxiety, aggression, psychosomatic complaints and musculoskeletal health complaints. Bullying not only affects those directly involved, but also affects bystanders, as they too experience higher levels of stress.
Examples of risk factors:
- Shift work
- Unclear direction or role in the workplace
- Stressful environments (healthcare, serving, retail)
- Lack of workload management
- Lack of clear leadership or expectations
- Lack of recognition
- Lack of civility and respect
- Stigma and discrimination
Quick Fact: There is a greater risk of accidents, incidents and injuries in workplaces that have poor psychological health.
D. Recognizing Burnout
What is burnout?
Burnout is a reaction to prolonged or chronic job stress and is characterized by three main dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism (less identification with the job), and feelings of reduced professional ability.
While burnout isn’t a diagnosable psychological disorder, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be taken seriously.
Here are some of the most common signs of burnout:
Alienation from work-related activities: Individuals experiencing burnout view their jobs as increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may grow cynical about their working conditions and the people they work with. They may also emotionally distance themselves and begin to feel numb about their work.
Physical symptoms: Chronic stress may lead to physical symptoms, like headaches and stomachaches or intestinal issues.
Emotional exhaustion: Burnout causes people to feel drained, unable to cope, and tired. They often lack energy to get their work done.
Reduced performance: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work—or in the home when someone's main job involves caring for family members. Individuals with burnout feel negative about tasks. They have difficulty concentrating and often lack creativity.
How to prevent and treat burnout:
An individual who is feeling burned out may need to make some changes to their work environment.
Approaching the human resource department about problems in the workplace or talking to a supervisor about the issues could be helpful if they are invested in creating a healthier work environment.
It can also be helpful to develop clear strategies that help you manage your stress. Self-care strategies, like eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercises, and engaging in healthy sleep habits may help reduce some of the effects of a high-stress job.
E. How to protect your mental health
In some cases your workplace may be unwilling or unable to change some of the factors that could lead to decreased mental health amongst workers. If that is the case there are some tools you can use to protect and maintain your mental health at work and at home. Mental health is tied to overall health, to improve and maintain mental health use these 4 categories and tips for each:
Physical: You need to take care of your body if you want it to run efficiently. Keep in mind that there's a strong connection between your body and your mind. When your caring for your body, you'll think and feel better too.
Physical self-care includes how you're fueling your body, how much sleep you're getting, how much physical activity you are doing, and how well you're caring for your physical needs. Attending appointments, taking medication as prescribed, and managing your health are all part of good physical self-care.
When it comes to physical self-care, ask yourself the following questions to assess whether there might be some areas you need to improve:
- Are you getting adequate sleep?
- Is your diet fueling your body properly?
- Are you taking charge of your health (making healthy decisions)?
- Are you getting enough exercise
Social: Socialization is key to self-care. But, often, it's hard to make time for friends and it's easy to neglect your relationships when life gets busy. Close connections are important to your well-being. The best way to cultivate and maintain close relationships is to put time and energy into building your relationships with others.
There isn't a certain number of hours you should devote to your friends or work on your relationships. Everyone has slightly different social needs. The key is to figure out what your social needs are and to build enough time in your schedule to create an optimal social life.
To assess your social self-care, consider:
- Are you getting enough face to face time with your friends?
- What are you doing to nurture your relationships?
- How much time are you spending on social media (less is more)?
Mental: The way you think and the things that you're filling your mind with greatly influence your psychological well-being. Mental self-care includes doing things that keep your mind sharp, like puzzles, or learning about a subject that fascinates you. You might find reading books or watching movies that inspire you fuels your mind.
Mental self-care also involves doing things that help you stay mentally healthy. Practicing self-compassion and acceptance, for example, helps you maintain a healthier inner dialogue.
Here are a few questions to consider when you think about your mental self-care:
- Are you making enough time for activities that stimulate your mind?
- Are you proactively thinking about your mental health?
- Are you recognizing your accomplishments?
Emotional: It's important to have healthy coping skills to deal with uncomfortable emotions, like anger, anxiety, and sadness. Emotional self-care may include activities that help you acknowledge and express your feelings on a regular basis.
Whether you talk to a partner or close friend about how you feel, or you set aside time for leisure activities that help you process your emotions, it's important to incorporate emotional self-care into your life.
When assessing your emotional self-care strategies, consider these questions:
- Do you have healthy ways to process your emotions?
- Do you incorporate activities that help you recharge?
Developing your self-care plan: Self-care isn't a one-size-fits-all strategy. Your self-care plan will need to be customized to your needs.
A self-care plan for a busy college student who feels mentally stimulated all the time and has a bustling social life might need to emphasize physical self-care. On the other hand, a retired person may need to incorporate more social self-care into their schedule to make sure that their social needs are being met.
Assess which areas of your life need some more attention and self-care. And reassess your life often. As your situation changes, your self-care needs are likely to shift too.
When you discover that you're neglecting a certain aspect of your life, create a plan for change. You don't have to tackle everything all at once. Identify one small step you can take to begin caring for yourself better. Then, schedule time to focus on your needs. Even when you feel like you don't have time to squeeze in one more thing, make self-care a priority. When you're caring for all aspects of yourself, you'll find that you are able to operate more effectively and efficiently.
1.5 Harassment in the workplace
A. What is harassment?
Harassment based on prohibited grounds:
Harassment based on prohibited grounds includes any inappropriate conduct, comment, display, action or gesture by a person that:
- is made on the basis of race, creed, religion, colour, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, physical size or weight, age, nationality, ancestry or place of origin; and
- constitutes a threat to the health or safety of the worker
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is conduct, comments, gestures or contact of a sexual nature that is offensive, unsolicited or unwelcome. It can include:
- a direct or implied threat of reprisal for refusing to comply with a sexually-oriented request;
- unwelcome remarks, jokes, innuendos, propositions or taunting about a person’s body, attire, sex or sexual orientation;
- displaying pornographic or sexually explicit pictures or materials;
- unwelcome physical contact;
- unwelcome invitations or requests, direct or indirect, to engage in behaviour of a sexual nature; or
- refusing to work with or have contact with workers because of their sex, gender or sexual orientation.
Certain types of conduct not specifically directed at an individual, such as displaying a poster or making comments that are overheard by another worker, can be considered harassment based on prohibited grounds.
Personal Harassment: Personal harassment is sometimes referred to as bullying. It includes any inappropriate conduct, comment, display, action or gesture by a person that:
- adversely affects a worker’s psychological or physical well-being;
- the perpetrator knows, or should know, would cause the worker to be humiliated or intimidated; and
- constitutes a threat to the health and safety of a worker.
Typically, personal harassment involves repeat occurrences. A single incident may also constitute personal harassment if serious or severe and is shown to have a lasting harmful effect on a worker.
Personal harassment may include:
- verbal or written abuse or threats;
- insulting, derogatory or degrading comments, jokes or gestures;
- personal ridicule or malicious gossip;
- malicious or unjustifiable interference with another’s work;
- work sabotage;
- refusing to work or co-operate with others; or
- interference with, or vandalism of personal property.
B. What to do if you are being harassed
1. Responding to harassment:
It is crucial that anyone who believes they have experienced harassment communicate that to the person who harassed them. If you feel uncomfortable approaching the person who harassed you, you can have another person speak to them on your behalf.
It is incredibly important that you communicate to the individual or group that you felt that their actions were harassment and you want them to stop that behaviour. Failure to communicate to the perpetrator(s) limits your legal capacity in relation to the harassment and the perpetrator(s) may be unaware that you were uncomfortable and therefore they may continue the behaviour in the future.
When harassment is discrimination:
Any harassment that goes against your human rights is a kind of discrimination. This includes harassment because of:
- your race, colour, ancestry, ethnic origin, citizenship, or where you were born
- your religious beliefs
- a physical or mental disability, including an addiction
- your sex or gender, including pregnancy
- your sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression
- your family or marital status
For this kind of harassment, you can make a complaint to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. If you are unsure whether the incident(s) you experienced qualifies as discrimination you can contact the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.
Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission:
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone: (306) 933-5952
Quick Fact: You can file a complaint to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission up to a year after the incident took place.
2. Write down the incident(s):
Harassment is often an ongoing process by the perpetrator, writing incidents down allows the folks investigating to see that the harassment is ongoing and debilitating.
Try to focus on the facts of what happened more than how it made you feel.
Make notes about:
- the date and time of each event
- who was there
- what people said, including who said it
- what order things happened in
- any injuries you had
- any steps you took to try to fix the problem
- what you told your supervisor and when you told them
Quick Fact: It's against the law for your employer to punish you for asking about your health and safety rights. But making a complaint about harassment can be difficult.
Legal Advice: If you feel the need to access legal advice for your harassment complaint, but have limited income you can see if you qualify for legal aid in Saskatchewan. If you do not qualify for legal aid in Saskatchewan you can access up to an hour of free legal advice from Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan.
- Legal Aid Saskatchewan: 1-800-667-3764
- Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan: 1-(306) 569-3098
3. Talking to your employer about harassment:
If harassment continues after you have communicated to the perpetrator and asked them to stop the behaviour you should speak to your employer about the harassment. Employers in Saskatchewan have an obligation to keep their workers safe from harassment.
Workplaces in Saskatchewan can choose to have a harassment policy. This policy should be made to protect you from workplace harassment.
It should have information about:
- how to get help quickly if someone is in danger
- how to report harassment to your employer
- how your employer will deal with your complaint
Ask your employer to give you information and training so that you know what to do if you’re being harassed. You should follow the steps in the workplace harassment policy as much as possible.
Contact SFL Ready for Work Coordinator Taylor Apperley