Who are vulnerable workers?

Vulnerable workers are those workers who have greater exposure than most to injury and illness due to their lack of experience, reluctance to ask questions, communication barriers and type of work.

The term vulnerable worker does not just apply to one group. Some workers are more vulnerable to workplace injury, either due to language barriers or because they are new or young workers. There are many kinds of vulnerable workers, including those who:

  • Recently moved to Ontario from another province/country
  • Just started their first job
  • Just returned to work after a long absence
  • Do not have appropriate documentation and/or who are refugees
  • Do not have adequate English language skills

What does the law say?

When it comes to vulnerable workers, sections 25 and 27 of Ontario’s Occupational Health & Safety Act (OHSA) outline the roles and responsibilities for Ontario employers and supervisors. These include:

  • Ensuring workers have the proper equipment, materials and protective devices
  • Ensuring that these equipment, materials and protective devices are properly maintained
  • Informing workers of any potential or actual dangers in the workplace
  • Informing, instructing and supervising workers to protect their health and safety
  • Hiring competent supervisors
  • Assisting and cooperating with joint health and safety committees (JHSC) or worker representatives
  • Taking every reasonable precaution to ensure the protection of a worker
  • Ensuring that workers comply with the OHSA

However, health and safety isn’t all up to the employer. Workers have rights and responsibilities under OHSA as well. These include:

  • The right to know about hazards in the workplace
  • The right to know how to prevent any injuries that result from these hazards
  • The right to participate in health and safety activities in the workplace
  • The right to refuse dangerous and unsafe work
  • The responsibility to use machinery and equipment in the way in which they are trained
  • The responsibility to report hazards to a supervisor or employer
  • The responsibility to use or wear personal protective equipment (P.P.E.)

What can you do?

  • Establish procedures and measures of success for workplace health and safety
  • Ensure equipment and P.P.E. is provided and properly maintained
  • Ensure that all hazards, illnesses and injuries are reported immediately
  • Identify hazards in the workplace and provide training/instruction on how to handle them
  • Provide proper and ongoing training
  • Respond promptly to all health and safety concerns

Health and safety is an investment. Firms that make health and safety a priority can benefit in many ways. The business justification includes:

  • Compliance with the law
  • Improvement in the bottom line & reduction in costs
  • Business interruption protection
  • Improvement in employee relations & employee morale
  • Improvement in reliability & productivity
  • Public trust

Help vulnerable workers get to and from work safely by ensuring they understand their workplace rights and by developing a strong orientation program. PSHSA offers a variety of training and resources to help employees and employers during orientation.