Safety Trumps

Shawnee Love   •  
September 29, 2016

One rule of thumb I often share with business leaders is that safety trumps.  In practice what I mean is that you can:

  • Pull someone off a job or piece of equipment if you don’t think they are fit for work.  E.g., if you suspect someone is under the influence or even seriously overtired.Safety hard hat icon symbol
  • Require an employee to wear protective gear even if it means removing religious attire.

However, as with all things, even black and white situations have some grey in them. If you have a safety policy which could interfere with other legal rights, you need to check whether there are any other viable solutions before making this a hill to die on.  In the case of operating under the influence, there usually is no other solution but to pull the worker.  But with respect to personal protective equipment, I have seen employers assign other employees to an job, or figure out a way to eliminate the risk of something dropping as a whole or find a new design of protective equipment or a modification which still protects the worker’s health and safety, as well as his or her rights and freedoms.

The various court cases don’t provide a clear rule for how to navigate situations when laws compete, so our best recommendation is engage the employee in the solution.  Identify what you are trying to prevent/ protect against, assess the risks and who will be affected if an incident occurs, and work together to figure out the best way.