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The foundation of occupational health and safety requires everyone in the workplace to play a role in controlling health and safety hazards. This is accomplished through participation and cooperation by employers and workers toward common goals. The philosophy behind the Occupational Health and Safety Act is known as the Internal Responsibility System, or IRS, and although this phrasing is not mentioned in any legislation, the government expects cooperation at all levels within an organization. The workplace parties themselves are in the best position to identify and control hazards in the workplace; every individual in the workplace is responsible for health and safety. When there is a complete system of responsibility, accountability, effective communication and cooperation, the I.R.S. will become the driving force behind a successful health and safety management system within the workplace. Every worker has three basic rights. These include:
Right to Know
Employers and supervisors must ensure workers are aware of the hazards presented by people, equipment, materials, the environment, and processes. They have the right to be trained on, and to receive information about dangerous and hazardous substances that they are exposed to, or are likely to be exposed. Workers have the right to know about WHMIS safety protocol and other important Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System guidelines.
The right to participate is best illustrated through worker membership on the Joint Health & Safety Committee. Workers have the right to ask questions about issues concerning their health and safety or that of a coworker. Workers have the right to be a part of the process of identifying, assessing and controlling workplace health and safety hazards. Participation can also be achieved by reporting unsafe conditions to the supervisor or employer.
Workers may refuse work where they believe the machine, equipment or environment is likely to endanger themselves or any other worker. The law details a process for refusing unsafe work and explains the employer’s responsibility for responding to work refusals. The law also provides workers with protection from reprisal, or retaliation, from the employer should they decided to refuse unsafe work.