Rights and responsibilities of faculty members under the Occupational Health & Safety Act

Thursday, March 22, 2012

By Richard Wells, in consultation with the Safety Office

This article was originally published in the Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo Forum, Issue 147.

Every faculty member has both rights and responsibilities under Ontario’s Occupational Health & Safety Act. Depending on the capacity you are serving in, however, your responsibilities may change when you act in a supervisory capacity.

As a worker, you have three basic rights:

  1. the right to know about workplace hazards,
  2. the right to participate in health and safety programs, and
  3. the right to refuse unsafe work.

Your responsibilities are to report health and safety hazards, follow safety legislation, standards, rules and procedures in your work and report accidents or injuries.

When you work in a supervisory capacity, for example when supervising a graduate student in a research lab, you also have responsibilities as a supervisor under the Act. These responsibilities are of the utmost importance. Work should only be performed by competent workers. Due diligence in safety requires that you take every reasonable precaution to protect the health and safety of workers or students under your direction. These precautions include performing a risk assessment of the hazards of the work, ensuring that students are trained and advised of safety hazards, wearing and ensuring that others wear adequate personal protective equipment and using safety controls appropriately. Your students must be trained in how to safely perform their work, so it is important that you work closely with them to develop safe lab or work procedures where required, and to check and document that safety training is complete. Students must also be aware of emergency procedures and what to do in case of an injury, a spill, or a fire.

Work should be monitored to ensure that it is being done in a safe way. Regular inspections of areas where your students work is a good way to ensure that all equipment is working properly, safe work procedures are being followed, and that no hazards are left uncontrolled.

All University of Waterloo employees, including graduate students, have mandatory minimum safety training requirements; however, it is up to you to confirm that mandatory training is complete, and to ensure that any work-specific training is arranged before work starts. For further information on safety requirements for supervisors or to request training, contact the Safety Office at ext. 33587.

Richard Wells (Kinesiology) is a faculty representative on the Main Campus Joint Health and Safety Committee.