Informing Employees About Unsafe Work Refusals

What’s this stuff? 

Some cereal… it’s supposed to be good for you. 

I’m not gonna try it. 

Let’s get Mikey! 


He won’t eat it, he hates everything… 

HE LIKES IT, HEY MIKEY!!!                     

1971 Quaker Oats TV advertisement for Life Cereal

On August 22, 2022, amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (OHSR) came into effect, to strengthen worker protections on the right to refuse unsafe work.  Employers are now required to inform workers about a previous work refusal before reassigning the work.

Simply put, this change means that if one employee has refused work on the basis that it is unsafe, before assigning the work to a second employee, the employer must inform the second employee about the prior refusal.  The Quaker Oats approach – if one person doesn’t want to do it, find another one who will – is no longer acceptable (if it ever was).

According to WorkSafeBC…

A worker’s right to refuse unsafe work is an integral element in ensuring work is carried out safely. All workers in B.C. have the right to refuse work where there is reasonable cause to believe it would create an undue hazard to their health or safety.

Prior to the amendment, the regulation did not explicitly prohibit the reassignment of refused work, or require the disclosure that another worker had refused the task due to health or safety concerns.

WorkSafeBC has addressed this issue through the amendment to the OHSR.

Under the new rules, employers are required to notify workers in writing of any unresolved work refusal due to safety concerns. It also requires employers to tell the subsequent worker the specific reasons the first worker felt the task was unsafe. The employer must also explain why the task would not create an undue hazard to their health and safety.

Also according to WorkSafeBC, this change to the OHSR followed an extensive public and stakeholder consultation process.

“Worker safety is our top priority and this regulatory change strengthens worker protections,” says Dan Strand, director of Prevention Field Services at WorkSafeBC. “This amendment makes the right to refuse process more transparent and allows workers to make informed decisions.”

“Workers are your eyes and ears on the front line of workplace health and safety,” says Strand. “When workers refuse work, it’s because they believe it's unsafe. Employers must listen to these concerns, assess the risk with the worker, document the decision, and ensure they take steps to correct the situation that could potentially cause harm.”

According to WorkSafeBC, the basis for this OHSR change was identified in a 2019 report by Lisa Helps called, WorkSafeBC and Government Action Review: Crossing the Rubicon.  Helps’ report indicated that she heard examples of workers expressing safety concerns to their supervisors and refusing to do the work, only to see the same task reassigned to another worker.

WorkSafeBC offers a multitude of information on its website ( about its OHSR requirements and safe working practices generally.  Employers with questions about the right to refuse unsafe work, or safe working practices generally, can contact WorkSafeBC’s prevention information line toll-free at 1-888-621-7233. 

I also recommend making liberal use of the B.C. Employers’ Advisors Office in relation to workplace health and safety matters.



This item is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. Informed legal advice should always be obtained about your specific circumstances.

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