WorkSafeBC strikes balance between religious freedoms and safety with new hard hat

Construction employers are commending WorkSafeBC and the province for walking a tightrope and coming up with regulatory changes that protect religious freedoms while ensuring worksites remain safe. 

“Construction sectors across this country are no stranger to policy and regulations and legislation that often goes against the grain or somehow doesn’t make sense,” Council of Construction Associations (COCA) president Dave Baspaly told the Journal of Commerce in an interview. “This situation could have gone that way, but this was actually planned out reasonably and we can work with it.” 

Labour Minister Harry Bains had asked WorkSafeBC to consider changes to B.C.’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (OHSR) on safety headgear. Under the regulation, safety headgear must be worn by a worker in any work area where there is a danger of head injury from falling, flying or thrown objects. 

The Sikh community maintained employers were effectively applying the regulation as a blanket requirement, resulting in turban-wearing workers not being able to fully participate in the workforce. 

However, Bains announced recently that new hard hat rules will soon make workplaces in B.C. more inclusive for people who wear religious head coverings without compromising workplace safety. 

Starting Sept. 1, employers will be required to review each area of a jobsite when determining if a person must wear safety headgear, such as a hard hat, in that area. Employers will determine, through a risk assessment, what safety precautions could be taken to prevent head injuries and whether a hard hat is necessary. 

“Creating more inclusive workplaces is a priority for our government, and we have been advocating for a change to the safety headgear regulations for a long time,” Bains said in a statement. “We are building an economy that benefits everyone, which includes ensuring safe workplaces are inclusive to people regardless of their faith.” 

Employers in B.C. are legally obligated to ensure the health and safety of their workers as well as accommodate a worker’s religious practice under the B.C. Human Rights Code. 

In B.C., the ground rules around workplace safety are laid out in the OHSR.  

For many years, the Sikh community has raised concerns about not being able to fully participate in the workforce because of some employers’ approach to the safety headgear requirement. 

According to the government, the regulatory change provides more opportunities for employers to safely accommodate workers who wear head coverings, such as a turban, as a religious practice.  

Baltej Dhillon, a retired RCMP officer and WorkSafeBC board member, said the change will allow members of the Sikh community who wear a turban to engage in dialogue with their employers to address workplace risks, which can, in…

Read MoreWorkSafeBC strikes balance between religious freedoms and safety with new hard hat

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