A worker at a care home for "mentally challenged
adults" refused to deliver juice and food supplements to
clients, using a juice cart, after another worker was struck by one
of the home's 113 clients when performing that task. The Nova
Scotia Labour Board decided that she did not have reasonable
grounds for engaging in the work refusal under the Nova Scotia
Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The worker claimed that she had a pre-existing medical condition
that placed her at a higher risk of serious injury if she was to be
struck in the face by one of the clients. She did not reveal the
exact nature of the medical condition but claimed that she had it
Management of the home had implemented a process for dealing
with aggressive clients, including providing Non-Violent Crisis
Intervention (NCVI) training to all direct-care staff.
The Nova Scotia Labour Board stated:
"Appellant's concern about working amongst clients is
based upon her fear of being struck by a client. Her solution is to
isolate herself from having contact with clients by working in the
kitchen, and by avoiding clients by refusing to accompany the juice
cart to the units where clients, including high risk clients,
reside. The Director testified that the right to refuse is based
upon an average individual having reasonable grounds for refusing
work. The Act does not address fears. While every employee
who testified admitted that there is an inherent risk in working at
the Home, all have accepted this risk as part of the conditions of
their employment. Most try to ameliorate the risk of possible
aggression from clients by making themselves aware of which clients
have a high risk to offend. Management has tried to reduce the risk
of injury to kitchen helpers by introducing changes to the
procedure for delivering juice and supplements to the units. With
regard to the introduction of these changes, most of
Appellant's co-workers were ambivalent about them. A poll
conducted amongst the ten affected employees by two members of the
JOHS Committee found that nine felt safe with or without the new
procedures being implemented. The Board is convinced that
Appellant's perception of the dangers imposed by having her
accompany the juice run to the units is an emotional reaction and
is not one that is based upon reasonable grounds."
This decision affirms that employees may not refuse to work
based only on fear or a perception of danger, particularly where
the fear relates to an "inherent risk" in the work. The
fear must be based on reasonable grounds.
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