I work in health care. What safety steps does my employer have to take?
On March 17, 2020, the Ontario government declared a state of emergency. This meant that workplaces that were not essential had to close. But workplaces providing health care must remain open. This includes long-term care homes, hospitals, clinics, as well as other urgent healthcare providers.
During the emergency, health-care employers must still follow the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The Act says that employers must do everything that they reasonably can to protect workers.
The exact safety measures that an employer must take to deal with COVID-19 depends on the kind of work that's being done.
What the law says about health-care workers
The Ministry of Labour has published information about what the law says health-care employers must do when dealing with an “infectious disease” such as COVID-19. The Ministry says that:
- employers must provide safety equipment that's appropriate for the work being done
- employers must train staff to use this equipment
- workers must have access to hygiene facilities, such as hand-washing stations, and alcohol-based hand cleaner
- employers must make sure that workers are told and trained about the risk of infection in the workplace
Rights related to refusing work
Most workers in Ontario have the right to refuse unsafe work. But for some workers there are limits on their right to refuse unsafe work. For example, health-care workers may only use this right for dangers that are not a normal part of their job.
Because dealing with infectious disease is a normal part of work in health care, the Ministry of Labour will likely consider COVID-19 to be a “normal” part of health-care work. This means that health-care workers can probably not refuse to do work just because there's a risk of being infected by COVID-19.
But working without the proper safety measures and appropriate equipment is probably not a “normal” part of health-care work. So health-care workers may be able to refuse work in these situations. This might include being forced to work without proper masks, gloves, or other personal protective equipment.
What you can do
If you're a health-care worker who believes that your workplace is not safe, you can report this to the Ministry of Labour.