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FAQ: West Nile Virus

  • Issued: June 2004
  • Content last reviewed: August 2013
 

What do I do if I believe that I'm likely to be exposed to West Nile virus in my workplace

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers and workers are responsible for ensuring that their workplaces are safe. Your employer must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers.

If you are concerned about West Nile virus and your personal health and safety in the workplace, discuss it with your supervisor or the joint health and safety committee if there is one. Generally, a solution can be found.

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Do workers have the right to refuse work if they believe that they are likely to be exposed to West Nile virus in their workplaces

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers and workers are responsible for ensuring their workplaces are safe. Your employer must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers.

If you are concerned about West Nile virus and your personal health and safety in the workplace, discuss it with your supervisor or the joint health and safety committee if there is one. Generally, a solution can be found.

If a solution can't be found or you are not satisfied with your employer's response, the Occupational Health and Safety Act gives workers the right to refuse work where they have reason to believe their health and safety is likely to be endangered because of physical conditions in the workplace.

There is a limited right to refuse unsafe work for some workers in certain occupations, such as firefighters, police and correctional officers.

If a worker refuses to work, the employer is expected to follow the work refusal process under the Act.

If an employer feels it is safe to return to work, but the worker does not agree, the Ministry of Labour must be notified. A Ministry of Labour inspector will then investigate.

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As a worker, what can I do to protect myself from West Nile virus

The chance of being bitten by an infected mosquito is very small. Person to person contact does not spread the virus. It cannot be spread directly from a bird to a human. However, as a safety precaution it is still important to minimize exposure to mosquitoes in areas that West Nile activity has been documented.

Some of the precautions that workers can consider for their protection are:

  • Wear protective clothing. Mosquitoes are attracted to darker, more intense colours. Subject to other safety requirements, select light-coloured clothing, including long sleeved shirts or jackets, and long pants. Tuck pants into socks for extra protection.
  • Reduce your exposure by eliminating likely breeding sites at your workplace. Where possible, eliminate standing water in yards, grounds, parking lots, ditches and flat roofs on a regular basis [or at least once a week]. For example, clean up and empty any local containers of standing water such as old tires, barrels, cans or any items of any kind that could hold standing water for any period of time outdoors.
  • Take particular care from dawn to dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Apply a mosquito repellent containing DEET or another federally approved personal insect repellent according to the directions on the label, before outdoor activities. The amount of DEET in the insect repellent should be no greater than 30 per cent for adults.
  • If you are unable to use DEET products, you may wish to use one of the other federally approved insect repellents.

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What can I do to protect my workers from West Nile virus

The chance of being bitten by an infected mosquito is very small. Person to person contact does not spread the virus. It cannot be spread directly from a bird to a human. However, as a safety precaution it is still important to minimize exposure to mosquitoes in areas where West Nile activity has been documented.

Information on protective measures is available from several key sources:

Employers with joint health and safety committees or worker health and safety representatives, should review the level of risk in their particular workplaces and develop an employee training or information session, or an information bulletin to educate workers.

Some of the precautions that workers can consider for their protection are:

  • Wear protective clothing. Mosquitoes are attracted to darker, more intense colours. Subject to other safety requirements, select light-coloured clothing, including long sleeved shirts or jackets, and long pants. Tuck pants into socks for extra protection.
  • Reduce your exposure by eliminating likely breeding sites at your workplace. Where possible, eliminate standing water in yards, grounds, parking lots, ditches and flat roofs on a regular basis [or at least once a week]. For example, clean up and empty any local containers of standing water such as old tires, barrels, cans or any items of any kind that could hold standing water for any period of time outdoors.
  • Take particular care from dawn to dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Apply a mosquito repellent containing DEET or another federally approved personal insect repellent according to the directions on the label, before outdoor activities. The amount of DEET in the insect repellent should be no greater than 30 per cent for adults.
  • If you are unable to use DEET products, you may wish to use one of the other federally approved insect repellents.

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Who should pay for training, protective clothing and/or personal insect repellent

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act employers must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers, but workers also share in that responsibility through the internal responsibility system and their joint health and safety committees or worker health and safety representative.

Employers are responsible for health and safety training. Some employers provide protective clothing or other protective equipment. In other cases workers could be asked to pay for their own protective equipment to deal with the risk of mosquitoes.

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Can I refuse to work if I feel endangered by pesticide use in the workplace

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers and workers are responsible for ensuring that their workplaces are safe. Your employer must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers.

If you are concerned about pesticide use in the workplace, discuss it with your supervisor or the joint health and safety committee if there is one. Generally, a solution can be found.

If you are not satisfied with your employer's response, the Occupational Health and Safety Act gives workers the right to refuse work where they believe their health and safety is likely to be endangered because of physical conditions in the workplace.

There is a limited right to refuse unsafe work for some workers in certain occupations, such as firefighters, police and correctional officers.

If a worker refuses to work, the employer is expected to follow the work refusal process under the Act.

If an employer feels it is safe to return to work, but the worker does not agree, the Ministry of Labour must be notified. A Ministry of Labour inspector will then investigate.

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Can I refuse to work if I can't, or won't, wear a personal insect repellent because of health concerns

If you are concerned about use of a personal insect repellent in the workplace, discuss it with your supervisor or the joint health and safety committee if there is one. Generally, a solution can be found.

Personal protective equipment such as protective clothing/mosquito netting may be used in addition to environmental control measures to minimize the risk of mosquito bites and exposure to the West Nile virus. A worker who is unable to use DEET products may wish to use one of the other federally approved insect repellents.

If you are not satisfied with your employer's response, the Occupational Health and Safety Act gives workers the right to refuse work where they believe their health and safety is likely to be endangered because of physical conditions in the workplace.

There is a limited right to refuse unsafe work for some workers in certain occupations, such as firefighters, police and correctional officers.

If a worker refuses to work, the employer is expected to follow the work refusal process under the Act.

If an employer feels it is safe to return to work, but the worker does not agree, the Ministry of Labour must be notified. A Ministry of Labour inspector will then investigate.

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Am I entitled to personal emergency leave because of West Nile virus

If you work for an employer that regularly employs 50 or more employees you are entitled to personal emergency leave if you have a personal illness, injury or medical emergency. As well you are entitled to personal emergency leave if certain of your relatives contract the virus.

Personal emergency leave is unpaid, job-protected leave of up to 10 days each calendar year. Employers are prohibited from penalizing you in any way because you took personal emergency leave.

(See the Your Guide to the Employment Standards Act or call the Ministry of Labour at 1-800-531-5551 for more information.)

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