OHSA Coverage Extended to Unpaid Co-op Students, Other Unpaid Learners

On November 20, 2014, Bill 18, the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 received Royal Assent. The Act amends Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), changing the definition of worker to include unpaid co-op students and other unpaid learners.

In the words of the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Labour, Sophie Dennis, “The new definition of worker makes it a legal requirement to do what Ontario employers have been doing all along – protecting the health and safety of all their workers, including unpaid co-op students.”

Unpaid students, learners and trainees participating in work programs approved by their school boards or post-secondary institutions are now defined as “workers” under the OHSA. Unpaid secondary school students, learners and trainees now have the same rights as other workers under the OHSA. This includes the right to know about workplace hazards and the right to refuse unsafe work. They also have duties to comply with the OHSA and its regulations, operate equipment safely, and report any hazards to their supervisors or employers.

The amendments also provide regulation-making authority to extend OHSA coverage to other persons who perform work or supply services to an employer for no monetary compensation.

The new definition of worker in the OHSA does not include volunteers. A volunteer is under no obligation to accept an assignment which may be unsafe and at any time can refuse any task they may be asked to do.