Health and Safety
Health and Safety: The 3Rs
Every worker in Ontario has a right to a safe workplace. To ensure safe workplaces, various pieces of legislation, regulations, and policies exist.
Health and Safety Act
The Ontario Health and Safety Act (OHSA) safeguards workers’ three basic rights:
- the right to know,
- the right to participate, and
- the right to refuse unsafe work.
The Act outlines the duties and responsibilities of employers, supervisors, workers, and joint health and safety committees (JHSC), prohibits reprisal by an employer, and provides penalties for violations of the Act.
School Board (Employer) Responsibilities
The school board must:
- Provide workers with information and instruction to protect their health and safety;
- Develop an occupational health and safety policy and post it in each workplace; and
- Make workers and the JHSC aware of reports and results concerning health and safety issues.
The supervisor/principal must:
- Ensure workers are in compliance with the act and its regulations;
- Advise workers of any potential or actual hazard; and
- Take every precaution reasonable for the protection of workers and investigate any work refusal.
The worker must:
- Work in compliance with the OHSA;
- Report to an employer any defects in equipment, existence of a hazard, or violations (e.g. build up of ice on schoolyard pavement); and
- Report injuries/accidents to immediate supervisor.
Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC)
The JHSC is composed of both union and management personnel. The committee’s terms of reference should include establishing an inspection schedule, a mechanism for resolving disputes, system for recording accidents, and procedure for investigating work refusals.
The JHSC has the right to recommend workplace policies and procedures that involve health and safety. An employer must respond to written recommendations within 21 days.
During workplace inspections, teachers and education workers should assist the health and safety worker-inspector to identify any dangers or hazards.
Under the OHSA, workers must report any defect in equipment, a contravention of the Act, any workplace hazard, all injuries, and health and safety incidents. Workers sometimes fail to report because they feel an accident or injury is trivial. They may fear reprisals or simply lack knowledge of proper procedure.
All incidents should be reported by completing a Workplace Safety Insurance Board claim form, the school board’s accident/incident report, and ETFO’s violent incident report.
Right to Refuse Work Is Limited
Teachers have a limited right to refuse work. While the OHSA covers teachers, the R.R.O.1990, Regulation 857 Teachers, requires a teacher to ensure the health and safety of a pupil is not in imminent jeopardy prior to enacting a work refusal under the OHSA.
A teacher or education worker who believes a hazard exists in the workplace should report it to the principal immediately. If action is not taken in a reasonable time-frame, a teacher or education worker should contact the ETFO health and safety representative for assistance.
The right of other education workers to refuse work is not limited. Any work refusal must be taken in accordance with Section 43-45 of the OHSA; one cannot simply walk out.
Indoor Air Quality
The quality of indoor air is affected by carbon dioxide, mould, cleaning compounds, inadequate cleaning services etc. Asthma, nausea, nosebleeds, eye irritations, general malaise, and headaches are some common symptoms.
If symptoms persist for an extended period of time, or if they disappear when not in a particular workplace, the problem should be reported immediately to the principal/supervisor.
Like any health and safety concern, air quality requires proper attention. If testing does take place, a worker representative has the right to be present. All results need to be communicated to the workers.
Slips, Trips, and Falls
Thirty percent of accidents in the education sector are slips, trips, or falls.
- Floors or other surfaces must be kept free of obstructions, hazards, and accumulations of refuse, ice, and snow.
- Ladders, including step stools, are required when needing to reach high areas. Never use a chair or a desk to replace a ladder.
- Stairs should be properly lit and free of hazards. When carrying items up stairs, don’t pile them up. Never obstruct your view; instead, make two trips.
Violence in the Workplace
Violence must be addressed as a health and safety issue. Teachers and education workers should report all incidents of violence. Violence in the workplace, including violence from students (hits, kicks, bites, verbal abuse) is not part of the job.
When appropriate provisions are not enacted to deal with a known violent individual (i.e. student, parent), an employer may be seen as not having acted with due diligence to protect workers’ safety. A worker may file a complaint, citing Sections 25 and 27 of the OHSA.
Some recent arbitration decisions have indicated that Ministry of Labour inspectors have jurisdiction in the areas of training, procedures, and staffing levels as a protective measure in certain situations.
Reference Source: Take Every Precaution Reasonable: An ETFO Guide to Occupational Health and Safety in Schools
Members are advised to consult Professional Relations staff in Protective Services at 416-962-3836 or 888-838-3836 for additional advice.