Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Responsibility
The Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science is committed to providing a safe work environment for all of its staff, students and volunteers. The standards for health and safety are defined in the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, Regulation and Code. This legislation outlines supervisor and worker rights, duties and obligations and provides the requirements they must meet to protect their own health and safety as well as that of others associated with the workplace. In Alberta, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and research associates are considered workers.
The General Duty Clause
Alberta legislation dictates that workplace health and safety is a shared responsibility. The “General Duty Clause” holds employers responsible for preventing occupational illness and injuries by obligating them to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to:
a) protect the health and safety of employees and visitors to their work site, and
b) ensure that their employees are aware of their duties and responsibilities under the OHS Act, Regulations, and Code. OHS Act, Section 2(1)
Workers also have duties under the legislation. They must:
a) work in a safe manner, taking reasonable care to protect their health and safety and that of other workers, and
b) co-operate with their employer in the health and safety measures that have been implemented. OHS Act, Section 2(2)
Hazard Assessment, Elimination and Control
A hazard is any situation, condition, or thing that may be dangerous to the safety or health of workers. OHS legislation (OHS Code, Part 2) recognizes that an effective means of protecting worker health and safety is to identify hazards in the workplace, then to either eliminate them completely or put in place effective measures by which they can be controlled. From a laboratory perspective, important potential sources of hazards include, but are not limited to:
1) Physical workspace – includes cleanliness and other conditions of the workplace that could lead to injuries such as slips, trips, falls etc.
2) Equipment - anything used to equip workers at a worksite including tools, supplies, and machinery.
3) Controlled products - any product, material or substances included in one or more of the six WHMIS classes (includes nearly all chemicals).
4) Hazardous Substances - substances that, because of their properties, application or presence, create or could create a danger, including a chemical or biological hazard, to the health and safety of a worker exposed to it. Exposure to hazardous substances must be kept as low as reasonably practicable/achievable when there are no established occupational exposure limits (se Schedule 1, Table 2) OHS Code part 4
Jobs and tasks (work processes; e.g. analytical procedures) must be assessed to identify existing and potential hazards prior to beginning the work. A hazard assessment must be repeated when a new work process (involving the use of new materials, chemicals, equipment, etc.) is introduced or an existing work process is changed. Identified hazards must either be eliminated or, if elimination is not reasonably practicable, measures must be implemented in a hierarchical fashion to control them:
- Engineering controls – physical controls directed at the source, or as close to the source, of hazards as possible (isolation, barriers, guards, etc.).
- Administrative controls – rules, policies, safe work practices/procedures, training etc. that outline how workers are to safely work with or manage the hazard.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - eye, hand, head, hearing, and respiratory protection. Like administrative controls, PPE reduce the likelihood and severity of injury, but do not eliminate the hazard.
- Combination of Control Methods - all reasonable and practicable measures must be taken to control the hazard, even if it requires more than a single measure.
University of Alberta Health and Safety Responsibilities Procedure (see UAPPOL)
The University defines a supervisor as a person who has control over assigned work and authority over the persons conducting the work OR a person who has been delegated responsibility for instructing, directing or controlling staff or students working or studying at the University of Alberta. In meeting the requirements of Alberta OHS legislation, the University has ascribed the following responsibilities to supervisors (remember that workers and students are required to cooperate with every aspect of the Supervisor’s program):
- Supervisors, in cooperation with staff, identify hazards and implement appropriate measures to eliminate or control the hazards. A written record of the hazard assessment is required.
- It is the responsibility of the supervisor to develop specific health and safety guidelines and safe work procedures for their area of supervision through the hazard assessments.
- Supervisors must ensure all staff have the required skills and are competent to perform the work safely using the appropriate safe work procedures. Working within this framework, supervisors ensure adequate job/task training and health and safety training.
- Supervisors must ensure that workers affected by the hazards identified in a hazard assessment report are informed of the hazards and of the methods used to control or eliminate the hazards.
Refusal of Unsafe Work
The right of the employer to direct work is balanced by the requirement of employees to refuse unsafe work that presents an imminent danger to the health or safety of themselves or others in the workplace.
No worker shall carry out work or operate any tool, appliance or equipment if on reasonable and probable grounds they believe that there exists an imminent danger to the health and safety of themselves or others around them. OHS Act Section 35
Dangerous conditions must be reported to a supervisor so that corrective actions can be taken.