Does wearing a hard hat stop your religious freedom?
It seems so, according to many recent court cases. More and more citizens are being permitted to ditch hard hats and helmets in favour of religious headgear. Who pays when these people sustain an injury? We all do.
By Alec Caldwell
At a construction site in Ontario recently a turban-wearing security guard said he could not trade his turban for a hard hat. Under current laws, Canada-wide, every person on a construction job site is required to wear a hard hat.
Nevertheless, more and more workers are refusing to wear hard hats for religious reasons. Faced with this situation, employers have to try and honour the term “Reasonable Accommodation.” This means they must attempt to reconcile their workers’ religious requirements with the other laws they are required to follow.
The case of the turban-wearing security guard is now before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. Chances are, this person will win his case as many human rights decisions have superceded other laws in recent years.
But this was not the case as recently as 1985. That year, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a Sikh railway worker was required to wear a hard hat on the job.
But since then, the legal community has taken a harder look at the real implications of exempting people from helmet or hard hat laws. A Chief Justice, in a written ruling, noted that such exemptions from hard hat laws expose workers to negligible risk, there is no cost to employers and, most importantly, no risk to anyone else except the person claiming the right to not wear the hard hat.
Many religious-freedom legal challenges to motorcycle helmet laws in British Columbia and Manitoba have been upheld – the turbans (in most cases) can stay on. Although, in Ontario, a judge recently upheld a ticket issued to a Sikh man caught riding in a turban with (obviously) no helmet. The case has now gone to appeal.
This new way is intriguing and liberating (for the complainants). Not wearing a hard hat doesn’t jeopardize anyone else’s safety. However, these individuals’ decision to seek discard hard hats will exclude them from suing anyone in the case of injuries sustained because of that decision.
But I wonder how this would play out if someone on scaffolding above accidentally dropped a brick and it fell on the head of a non hard-hat wearer!
The cost to the rest of society is another matter. The Ontario judge in the recent helmetless rider case who upheld the ticket noted that the cost of treating devastating brain injuries is enormous. So, too, is the burden on family members who lose a loved one – or have them incapacitated – due to a head injury.
It looks like society will be burdened by the debt of trying to save peoples’ lives because of preventable injuries caused by their religious beliefs. If we were all allowed to follow our beliefs on the wearing of safety gear, our health premiums would surely increase.
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