What You Need To Know About Workplace Safety, Even If You’re Just An Intern

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My mom raised a good question recently. She asked me whether I’m financially covered through my internship in case of an accident in the workplace.

Upon asking someone in the human resources department, I was assured that I was covered as a non-employee in the company insurance policy and under the Employment Standards Act.

What about you? Are you covered?

Unpaid interns in particular will want know about the extent of their coverage, or, in the event that they are not covered the same as paid staff, to negotiate a plan.

It is important that all employees are familiar with basic health and safety in the workplace.

WHMIS

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is a piece of legislation providing education and information on the use of dangerous chemicals you may encounter in a work environment (or even at home). WHMIS is standardized across Canada and every province has its own WHMIS program.

Those who work in a warehouse, the food industry, manufacturing, or with hazardous chemicals should receive WHMIS training during their orientation. Those who handle hazardous chemicals should become familiar with the Material Safety Datasheet (MSDS). If you work in an office, it’s unlikely you’ll receive WHMIS training, but you should familiarize yourself with eight WHMIS symbols regardless of where you work.

Ontario Health and Safety Act

The Ontario Health and Safety Act is as much about your employer protecting you as it is about you protecting others. Under this act, employees have the right to:

  1. know about workplace hazards (e.g., violence or harassment)
  2. participate in the identification of, and resolution of, hazards by the Joint Health and Safety Committee, and
  3. refuse unsafe work

But the act requires that you take action as well. Make sure you’re following the act—by, for example, wearing protective head gear should your workplace require it—and report to your supervisor should you notice any defects in equipment or unsafe elements of the workplace environment.

People who are not covered by the act include those who are self-employed, work on a private residence, private farms, or those who work under federal jurisdiction (and as such are covered by the Canada Labour Code). Be sure to familiarize yourself with the Health and Safety Act of your province.

Emergency procedures

A fire can happen no matter where you work. Make sure you know the fire escape route of your workplace. The elevator may make for a comfy morning trip to work (who doesn’t love elevator music?), but make sure you also know the location of the stairwell because that’s your go-to in case of fire.

The HR policy that outlines the fire escape route should be posted somewhere accessible in your workplace. It’s also important that you locate the nearest fire extinguisher and know how to use it.

Depending on your workplace—if you work at a bank, for example—there may be other emergency procedures with which you should be familiar, such as what to do in case of a hostage situation or earthquake.

Workplace safety insurance if you get hurt

Find out your workplace’s policy on accidents or injuries. We’ve all seen the monuments erected in honour of tragic and often preventable accidents that have occurred in the workplace. What these symbols hope to teach us is to be safe at work, and to look into how you will be compensated if you do get hurt.

Are you insured at work? Unpaid interns in particular will want know about the extent of their coverage, or, in the event that they are not covered the same as paid staff, to negotiate a plan.

Really, everyone should be familiar with all the health and safety procedures outlined in this article, but realistically few of us (especially those of us working in offices) are given the proper training or awareness to be fully prepared in case of an emergency. Do yourself a favour: familiarize yourself with these documents and labels. After all, it’s for your own safety!

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About the author

Marisa Baratta loves writing, especially about topics pertaining to environmental change, animal issues, human rights and health. She loves helping others and wants to make a positive difference in the world. She is always working on publishing her books, which seek to inspire and incite laughter. She has been published in the National Post, t.o. night newspaper and on several online magazines. She completed a BA with a specialization in English and a bilingual certificate before studying Book and Magazine Publishing at Centennial College. She lives with her family and two cats (can you spot one of them in the picture?).