Canadian Rental Service

Went when Hong: Safety in practice

By James Hong   

Features Government and regulatory

Let’s talk about the difference between developing safety procedures and actually making things safe. I’ve written many articles about procedures, protocols, personal safety, site safety and multiple aspects of overall safety. I’ve published training and safe-work procedures and authored policies on safety.

Today I want to talk about safety procedures versus being safe. What does that mean? It means there are two components to working safely, which are: following safety procedures and a personal sense of being safe with proven outcomes.

Seasoned workers with many years of experience often have a built-in radar for how to maintain being safe. In other words, along with safety steps and protocols they’ve developed on-the-ground safety wisdom. Sometimes there are safety specifications and steps which haven’t worked in the past. In those scenarios, professionals re-evaluate, troubleshoot and frequently create work-around solutions for alternative methods and/or additional steps to ensure safe outcomes. These creative solutions are  developed through on-the-job experience.

For those who don’t necessarily have years of experience, they may be relying on specs and procedures. For example, when operating machinery, it is the responsibility of the operator to be familiar with the specifications and operating procedures, however, what if you run across specifications and operating procedures that don’t make safety sense to you. Then what do you do? This question addresses the crux of safety procedures versus reality.


Recently, someone brought to my attention the specifications and operating procedures that he considered counterintuitive. Given his experience, it simply made no common sense to him. Generally speaking, the issue was about the height of a particular piece of machinery and the ability of that machinery to be stable while moving across the ground: a telescopic boom lift’s maximum height, angle and ability for safe mobilization. For the person bringing it to my attention, the numbers didn’t add up and  didn’t make sense based on personal experience. They were highly doubtful that the guarantees that were being made were possible or believable.

Now I will say this much: it’s not up to any of us to second-guess a manufacturer’s statement of what a machine can do. However it is up to each of us and our co-workers to be aware of what is sensible, what is reasonable and what is practical, and to then apply experience and common sense to those situations. As I always say, when in doubt, ask.

If you feel that you are being asked to do something that is not safe, regardless of what any procedure or specifications are, it is your right to refuse. A real-life example: you might be asked to work at a height that’s too high for your comfort. Not only would that cause you to feel unsafe, the fact that you have a fear of heights would make it extremely unsafe for you to do so.

In that scenario, you do have the right to refuse the work assignment. You have the right to state why and you cannot be reprimanded, disciplined or fired for refusing work due to your fear of height compromising your safety. You can request a different assignment that excludes working at heights.

Each province recognizes a right to refuse unsafe work. In cases where hazards are the reason for the work refusal, there are strict requirements for investigation that outline who must attend the investigation and the procedures to determine the outcome.

And don’t worry about what the other guys might think. Your safety is paramount…nothing is more important.

The procedure for refusing unsafe work is straightforward:

  1. Go to the site supervisor and explain that you do not feel safe doing the work requested of you and why. Request a different assignment.
  2. The site supervisor is obligated to fill out a refusal form which you may have to participate in by answering some of the questions. Answer them.
  3. The supervisor must reassign you without any loss of pay while resolving the issue.

Be safe. Be well. 

James Hong is an OH&S consultant, independent writer and journalist.

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