Health and Safety ReportVolume 21, Issue 6

On Topic

Human Rights and Promoting a Safe, Inclusive Workplace print this article

One might wonder, what do human rights have to do with occupational health and safety? Workers in Canada are entitled to a workplace that is both physically and psychologically safe. Consider this scenario:

Kwame works on the custodial team of a local community centre. One of his co-workers has been making disparaging comments about immigrants, knowing that Kwame and his family are new Canadians. The comments make Kwame feel anxious and like an outsider, so he avoids this co-worker as much as possible. He doesn’t feel psychologically safe at work.

Kwame may not know that there is legislation in place to protect his human rights.

Everyone in Canada has human rights that entitle them to equality, dignity, and freedom from discrimination in life and at work. Canadian employers also have legal and ethical obligations to promote diversity and inclusion in their workplaces, arising from various federal, provincial, and territorial legislations that aim to prevent discrimination and create equitable working environments.

Employers’ obligation to promote inclusion

Human rights legislation requires employers to build equality into workplace standards so that, as much as possible, the governing of the performance of work reflects all members of society. Employers and service providers have a legal obligation, called the duty to accommodate, to enable workers to participate fully in the workplace. This duty may include the need to adapt rules, policies, practices, or physical spaces that negatively impact individuals or groups based on one or more prohibited grounds of discrimination, including race or ethnicity.

The duty to accommodate may require treating someone differently to prevent discrimination, where treating everyone the same, or “equally,” would result in discrimination. For example, asking all job applicants to pass a written test may not be fair to a person with a visual or learning disability. In such cases, the duty to accommodate may require that alternative arrangements be made to ensure that a person or group can participate fully. Employers should also consider how conscious and unconscious bias factor into certain assumed required conditions of employment, such as credit and background checks. The Supreme Court of Canada has explained that the essence of true equality is to be treated according to one’s own merit, capabilities, and circumstances. True equality requires that differences be accommodated.

Regardless of policies that may exist in the workplace to prevent discrimination, instances may happen. Workers may not always understand that types of behaviour may be seen as discriminatory and psychologically unsafe – it’s important to provide education and training about what the appropriate actions are. Everyone in the workplace should be trained on how to recognize discrimination and understand their duty to come forward when they see it happening. Workers experiencing discrimination need to know their concerns will be taken seriously and that they will not experience retaliation for coming forward.

Understanding legislation

There are several types of legislation that cover human rights and foster inclusive workplaces in Canada, including federal, provincial, and territorial human rights legislation, occupational health and safety legislation, common and human rights case law, and employment equity legislation.

Canadian employers must comply with applicable federal, provincial, and territorial human rights legislation, which prohibits discrimination based on protected grounds. For example, the Canadian Human Rights Act, and corresponding provincial or territorial human rights legislation, provide comprehensive protections against discrimination in employment. These legislations emphasize the importance of creating inclusive workplaces and outline the employers’ responsibilities in preventing discrimination. They also include the duty to accommodate.

Occupational health and safety legislation includes provisions that pertain to diversity and inclusion. Employers have a responsibility to maintain a safe and inclusive work environment that is free from harassment and violence. They must take steps to prevent and address incidents of harassment to ensure the well-being and safety of their workers.

In addition to statutory obligations, Canadian employers must consider common law principles and human rights case law when addressing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Courts have interpreted human rights legislation and established legal precedents that guide employers' obligations in preventing discrimination, accommodating disabilities, and promoting inclusivity.

Canadian federal employers, and provincially regulated employers (who are covered by the Federal Contractors Program) are subject to federal employment equity legislation. These laws require designated employers to take proactive measures to address systemic barriers and promote representation of designated groups such as women, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and visible minorities in their workforce.

Employers have both legal and ethical obligations to create diverse and inclusive workplaces. By understanding and fulfilling these obligations, employers can foster environments that promote equality, respect, and inclusion, benefiting both their workers and the organization as a whole.

After reading through some of his workplace’s onboarding materials that address discrimination at work, Kwame opts to have a conversation with his supervisor about his co-worker’s comments and is reassured that management will address them.

Please note: This article is guidance only and may not apply to every situation. Evaluate the specific circumstances for your organization in your jurisdiction and seek the advice of legal professionals with knowledge of human rights as applied to the workplace.


Tips and Tools

Keeping Workers Safe from Wildfire Smokeprint this article

The ongoing hot and dry weather in Canada is making it difficult for firefighters to control wildfires. The smoke from these fires can travel long distances and affect communities far away from the fire itself. Wildfire smoke contains particles and gases that may be harmful to workers. Smoke can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as headaches and the worsening of allergies. Inhaling fine particles of smoke has been linked with the aggravation of pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. It's important to protect workers when there is wildfire smoke in the air. Here are 10 tips to help:

  • Employers should check the Air Quality Health Index and other indicators to know the smoke levels in their community.
  • Try to reduce strenuous outdoor activities for workers as much as possible because intense physical work can make them breathe in more air, including smoke. If possible, move work indoors.
  • Make sure ventilation systems and air filters are well-maintained to remove smoke particles and provide clean air in work areas.
  • Include plans to deal with wildfires and smoke in emergency response and business continuity plans, especially if wildfires are common in the region.
  • Have procedures in place to monitor and respond to wildfires and smoke, including the possibility of evacuation.
  • Train workers on emergency response procedures and how to prepare for an evacuation.
  • Investigate any work-related incidents that may occur. These should include reports of smoke inside the workplace or a worker experiencing adverse health effects to smoke exposure.
  • If workers experience severe symptoms, provide or call for medical assistance. Workers having difficulty breathing should reduce or stop their activities and inform their supervisor. It may be necessary to temporarily relocate them to an area with cleaner air or reschedule their work when air quality improves.
  • Wildfire season in Canada coincides with the hottest weather. This means workers may be exposed to both smoke and extreme heat. Follow a heat stress program and consider the added stress due to reduced air quality. If workers can't spend time in cooler and cleaner air, provide access to water and encourage them to drink regularly, even if they don't feel thirsty. Drinking water helps moisten the nose and mouth, which helps the body remove some of the particles.
  • Regularly check in with workers about their mental and physical health. Wildfire and smoke events can be mentally and emotionally challenging. It's normal to feel anxious, stressed, sad, or isolated during such times. Encourage workers to eat well, get enough sleep, exercise indoors, and stay in touch with friends, as these things can help.


Partner News

Help with Quitting Smokingprint this article

Some workers smoke on the job, either while working or taking their “smoke break.”  And some of these workers are trying to quit the habit. To help Canadians quit smoking, Health Canada recently launched Tools for a smoke-free life. The website provides tips and resources to help with quitting and staying quit and shares ways to reduce the harm of cigarette smoking and vaping.

Visit: Tools for a smoke-free life

You can also connect with a quit coach in your province or territory by calling 1-866-366-3667 or online at


Register now for the CCOHS Forum to save $100print this article

Join us September 26-27 in Halifax, Nova Scotia at CCOHS’ The Changing World of Work Forum. This two-day national event will feature perspectives on current and emerging issues, an innovation showcase to learn about new tools and resources, and opportunities to discuss and exchange ideas.

Register by June 30, 2023, to take advantage of the early bird rate (a $100 savings). Plus stay at the event venue, the Westin Nova Scotian Halifax, and benefit from preferred delegate rates if you book by August 25, 2023 (limited number of rooms are available).

For more information and to stay up to date, visit


Updated WHMIS Course for Managers and Supervisors print this article

Canada’s Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) has changed as of December 2022. Our updated online course helps managers and supervisors to understand and meet their health and safety responsibilities related to WHMIS.

Managers and supervisors will learn to identify their duties and legal responsibilities, recognize the components of WHMIS, and locate and interpret hazard information on product labels. They will also be able to locate additional information in a safety data sheet and identify training program requirements.

Access the WHMIS for Managers and Supervisors course.

For most workplaces, the notable impacts of the transition from WHMIS 2015 to the amended WHMIS will be the adoption of a new physical hazard class (Chemicals Under Pressure), the adoption of a non-flammable aerosols hazard category (Aerosol - Category 3, non-flammable aerosol), and new subcategories for flammable gases.   

More information about the amendments to the Hazardous Products Regulations is available from Health Canada.

View more updated information and resources:


Creating Inclusive Workplaces for Trans and Non-binary Workersprint this article

CCOHS releases new podcasts each month to help you stay current and informed on workplace health, safety, and well-being in Canada.

New Podcast: Creating Inclusive Workplaces for Trans and Non-binary Workers

There are many ways employers can make the workplace safer and more inclusive for trans and non-binary employees, from educating workers on trans issues and human rights, to ensuring access to gender-neutral washrooms. In this episode, diversity and inclusion champion Dani Gomez-Ortega discusses why inclusive workplaces matter, roles and responsibilities, and the huge impact kindness can make.

Dani will speak more about inclusive workplaces at CCOHS’ Changing World of Work Forum, taking place September 26-27 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Podcast runs: 14:52 minutes.  Listen to the podcast now.

Encore Podcast: Protection from Summer Pests

Unpleasant encounters with ticks and mosquitos can lead to diseases such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus. This episode provides helpful information outdoor workers can use to protect themselves from these pesky summer pests.

The podcast runs 4:49 minutes.  Listen to the podcast now.

See the complete list of podcast topics or, better yet, subscribe to the series on iTunes or Spotify and don't miss a single episode.

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