How do you report unsafe work?

Suppose you are in a hotel and you see the window washer outside your room being blown around and unable to secure the platform.  Should you say something?  Would you?  And to whom? 

What if you stop for lunch on the weekend and the roofers on the steep slop of the mall across the street are three stories up and not tied off (and have no other fall restraint system in place)?    

What if your child comes home from his first week on a summer job concerned about the lack of personal protective equipment for the pesticides they are having to use but is fearful of losing the work by complaining?   

If you see an unsafe work situation at work, you have an obligation to say something.  Employers have a duty to keep workers and the workplace safe for workers and “other persons” in the workplace.  If you are a worker, you also have a right to refuse unsafe work.  But what if you are not a worker? What if the unsafe work or condition is something you observe but are fearful of reprisals if you intervene on your own?  

Most people would agree that you have a moral obligation to say something to prevent harm.  Most occupational safety and health and workers’ compensation authorities have information on their websites advising who to call or contact in the case of immanent danger to life or health.  For example, WorkSafeBC’s Prevention Information Line (see webpage ), states the following:  

Prevention Information LineContact us to:

  • Report a serious incident or major chemical release.
  • Report unsafe work conditions (see also Refusing unsafe work).
  • Report anonymously, in almost any language.
  • Request a worksite inspection consultation.
  • Get information about workplace health and safety.
  • Get information about the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation.
Phone: 604.276.3100 (Lower Mainland)
Toll-free: 1.888.621.7233 (1.888.621.SAFE) (Canada) Hours of operation: Monday to Friday, 8:05 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Fatalities and serious injuries: Call the numbers above, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Note how this organization removes the barrier of language and allows anonymous reporting.  There are, however, other barriers.  There is no facility to report by email or internet form, no facility to submit files, documents or photos, and, short of emergencies, access time is limited to normal daytime hours Monday to Friday.  Ideally, any person—worker or member of the general public—should  be able to report unsafe work without having to judge if it is an “immanent” danger.

In Washington State, the Department of Labor and Industries advises you fill out the following form:  

“Alleged Safety Or Health Hazards (DOSH Complaint Form)” Document number  F418-052-000

The website continues with instructions to “Mail, fax, or hand deliver a completed complaint form to any L&I office.”  It also advises “Your name & contact information (you may request anonymity or confidentiality for safety complaints).”   

This approach has some barriers.  First, not all of us have the time or inclination to download a document with about 20 fields,   (try and do that on your smartphone and I bet you will abandon the effort) . The form cannot be submitted as an email.  There is no provision for the form to be completed anonymously (although you can request anonymity and confidentiality).

Contrast this approach with taken by Alberta Labour.  You can “complain” about unsafe work using an online form.  Their website ( )  states “Anyone can report unsafe conditions at a workplace; you don’t have to be employed by a business to do so.”  The web form has only a few mandatory fields and you can remain anonymous, although anonymity, of course, means officials can’t contact you for follow-up details or additional information.  

The Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut) has a similar online form but has the added “search and view” feature.  The screen shot shows the detail available using this function.  It allows anyone to follow up on what is being reported and what happened as a result of a report.  The report is sortable on multiple fields.  
I particularly like this level of transparency.  While individual firms and persons are protected, it raises the profile of health and safety.  It also increases the perception that unsafe work will be detected and reported.  For some organizations this increased risk may act as a deterrent to unsafe or unhealthy workplaces. I’m not suggesting OH&S inspection should be crowd sourced, but allowing and encouraging public participation in making workplaces safe and healthy has the added advantage of raising societal awareness on this important issue.  

Some systems say the don’t respond to anonymous sources.  Note this line from the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Board’s website ( ):
When you report a dangerous workplace, you will be required to give your name and contact information for follow-up. Our safety officers do not respond to anonymous complaints.
This barrier may discourage anyone from “getting involved” and the rationale for this exclusion is not explained. 

One of the best online forms I’ve seen for reporting unsafe work comes from the Australian Capital Territory.  The Access Canberra webpage ( )  has a simple form complete with the ability to upload documents or files and includes an interactive map to pinpoint the closest physical location of the concern.   Think about the investigative value of uploading photos that are geotagged and timestamps.  It also has a tick box to “submit anonymously”.   The mobile version of this page is just as good and works well on a smartphone. 

The purpose of reporting an unsafe workplace is prevention.  Barriers to reporting defeat this purpose.  Reporting unsafe workplaces and situations should be simple, quick and  as barrier free as possible.  My checklist for a good “report unsafe work” site includes:
  • Accessible (multi-lingual if possible)
  • Available 24 hours a day, 7 days per week
  • Open to reports from the general public
  • Allows anonymous submissions
  • Permits attachments (documents, photos, etc.)
  • Simple and quick to submit from a smartphone
  • Provides a tracking reference to the submitter
  • Provides a transparent process for showing recent submissions and actions
Its time workers’ compensation and Occupational Health and Safety  organizations begin to leverage the power of instant communications and encourages greater public participation in making workplaces as safe and healthy as possible. 

About Terry Bogyo:

Terry Bogyo

Terry is an active researcher, speaker and commentator on workers compensation issues. Now retired, he was the Director of Corporate Planning and Development for WorkSafeBC. His responsibilities included environmental scanning, strategic planning and inter-jurisdictional comparisons.

Terry says of himself: I am a student of workers' compensation systems. Many years ago I discovered two things about this area. First, workers' comp and OH&S are of vital importance to people. Protecting, caring for and providing compensation to workers are important, noble and morally responsible endeavors. The second thing I learned was that no matter how much I knew about workers' comp/OH&S, there was always so much more to learn. This is an endlessly challenging area of study. My purpose, therefore, is not to lecture, but to reflect on the ideas and issues that are topical in this area... and to invite others to share in a learning experience. By adding your knowledge and insights, others with similar interests can participate in the discovery and study of this important domain.

His blog is "Workers' Compensation Perspectives".

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