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April 22, 2020

COVID-19 – the Right to Know, the Right to Participate and the Right to Refuse – Every Workers’ Right, Including Health Care Workers

Occupational Health & Safety

As the COVID-19 crisis in Canada deepens, the CFNU reaffirms to every health care employer that basic workers’ rights that are protected in provincial health and safety laws across Canada also exist for nurses and for all health care workers. They include:

1. The Right to Know ensures health care workers are told about the hazards that exist in their workplace and receive the appropriate training (and equipment) they need to do their jobs safely.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Right to Know also includes receiving accurate and up-to-date data, including the following data for each health care facility:

    • Number of patients and workers newly confirmed
    • Number of patients and workers newly exposed
    • Number of patients and workers newly isolated
    • Cumulative totals
    • Daily fatalities of patients and workers
    • Root cause analysis of how the workers were exposed

And the Right to Know also includes the right to the information on the availability of PPE supplies, broken down by PPE type.

2. The Right to Participate ensures health care workers are partners in decisions that affect their health and safety through their participation in Joint OH&S Committees.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the CFNU reiterates that health care unions and Joint OH&S Committees must be engaged as essential partners by governments and employers in the effort to develop COVID-19 guidance documents and resources, based on the precautionary principle, to protect health care workers faced with day-to-day stress as they serve on the front lines of this pandemic.

3. The Right to Refuse Unsafe Work refers to work that may endanger a health care worker’s health and safety, or that of others. This right is never the first step to protect workers, but is a right that can be exercised by workers if other efforts to mitigate the risk through a hierarchy of controls’ measures (including obtaining appropriate PPE) fail. Provincial nurses’ unions have a step-by-step guide to work refusals during the COVID-19 pandemic, describing when and how to take action based on provincial OH&S legislation.