Important: The information provided herein does not constitute legal advice. If you require legal advice, please consult a lawyer.
Occupational health and safety legislation regulates workplace health and safety. Its aim is to prevent workplace accidents, injuries, and diseases. Health and safety legislation sets standards and creates obligations on employers, and it also outlines consequences for breaches of those standards. Health and safety legislation imposes responsibilities on all members of the workplace, including directors and officers, employers, owners, supervisors, suppliers, and workers.
Generally, the legislation requires that the employer do everything they can reasonably do to protect the health and safety of their employees in the workplace. This includes, but is not limited to: providing appropriate training for handling potentially dangerous equipment and/or material, informing employees of potential dangers in the workplace, and setting up safe work practices. Under the legislation, employees have the right to refuse to perform work that is unsafe.
Health and safety legislation applies to every workplace, even office settings.
Understanding the Legislation
Health and safety are important issues in all workplaces and as such, organizations are required to comply with health and safety Acts and regulations. As with all other legislation, you need to comply with both the Act and the regulations. The Act will set out general requirements and the regulations will contain more specific requirements. For example, all health and safety Acts require a workplace to have first aid kits. The regulations specify things such as what must be in those first aid kits and where they must be located.
Health and safety is usually regulated by provincial or territorial legislation, unless your organization falls under federal jurisdiction (most nonprofit organizations are governed by provincial/territorial legislation). While all provinces and territories have similar legislation, there are differences among them. It is very important to visit your province or territory’s health and safety website and to review the specific legislation for information that is relevant to you and your organization.
Health and safety legislation covers a variety of topics, including but not limited to:
- Accidents and emergencies
- Committees and representatives
- Fitness for work
- General duties
- Harassment and violence
- Inspections, policies and programs
- Posting requirements
- Record keeping
- Refusing work
- Work area safety
In some cases these topics overlap with other employment legislation and your obligations as an employer may be found in more than one piece of legislation. Topics such as harassment and violence may also be addressed in human rights or employment standards legislation.
This article addresses a few standard health and safety requirements and important considerations, but it does not provide a complete list of your obligations. Be sure to consult the resources listed in this article.
Definition of “Worker”
The definition of “worker” varies between jurisdictions. It is important that you check this definition and understand who is a “worker.” In some jurisdictions, a “worker” includes a volunteer. For example, in Alberta, a worker includes a person who performs services for no monetary compensation and in Manitoba a person who is employed by an employer to perform a service, whether or not for gain or reward. These are just two examples - this is not an exhaustive list.
Health and Safety Committees and Representatives
To help an organization plan and follow through on this legislation, most employers must establish a health and safety committee or have a health and safety representative. Very small employers may not be required to have either.
Whether you require a committee or a representative depends on the number of workers that you have. Remember to check the definition of “worker” in the applicable legislation to make sure that you are counting correctly. In some jurisdictions, volunteers may be counted as workers. Also remember that your obligations will change as you grow - one additional hire may put you over a threshold and change your obligations.
A health and safety committee is a forum for improving workplace health and safety. A committee is required to consist of both worker and management representatives. Generally, the role of the committee is to identify and assist in preventing hazards in the workplace, recommend solutions to any issues, and promote and maintain health and safety in the workplace. In most provinces/territories the threshold for a health and safety committee is 20 or more workers, but check your jurisdiction(s) to confirm (for example, the threshold in Saskatchewan is 10 or more workers).
All Canadian jurisdictions outline requirements for a health and safety committee, however the name, legal requirement, number of people on the committee, composition of the committee, and mandatory training requirements vary.
In British Columbia, the committee is called a Joint Health and Safety Committee; it is legally required when there are 20 or more employees or when ordered to do so; there must be a minimum of four members; the committee must consist of at least half worker representatives; and each committee member must receive at least 8 hours of training.
In Alberta, the committee is called a Joint Work Site Health and Safety Committee; it is legally required where there are 20 or more workers or as directed by the minister; there must be two co-chairs but there is no set minimum and maximum number of representatives; there cannot be more employer representatives than employee representatives; and the employer must ensure that representatives receive training on their roles and responsibilities, the obligations of work site parties and the rights of workers.
Committees should meet on a regular basis and record minutes to maintain effectiveness. Some legislation specifies the number of meetings required (e.g. on a quarterly basis) and a form for recording meeting minutes. In most jurisdictions you are required to post the minutes of these meetings. Some legislation also specifies the duration of office / renewal of term for committee members.
Although health and safety legislation defines the required roles and responsibilities of the health and safety committee, organizational-specific purposes beyond what is required may want to be considered. For example, the committee could be responsible for completing annual audits of the workplace health and safety program, providing resources for employee health and safety training, liaising with external safety and awareness agencies, and/or communicating and motivating employees to develop and maintain a safety culture. The overall purpose of the committee should be included in the Health and Safety policy of the organization.
In smaller organizations, a health and safety representative may be required. This position would have the same or similar responsibilities and authority as the health and safety committee and is selected by the workers. As with committees, the requirement to have a representative is based on the number of workers.
The threshold for a representative varies by jurisdiction more than the threshold for a committee. Be sure to check the requirements for your specific jurisdiction(s).
A key aspect of health and safety legislation is ensuring that employees are informed about their rights. For that reason, health and safety legislation requires employers to post certain information in the workplace and to provide employees with certain information, or make that information readily available. Those requirements vary from one province/territory to another, but the requirements under provincial and federal legislation can be found in this Report on Health and Safety Posting Requirements (PDF, 216 KB).
Health and Safety Resources
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety provides Canada-wide health and safety information through helpful fact-sheets and links. This is a Government of Canada website, but it includes information on the legislation and requirements in the provinces and territories as well.
We encourage you to contact your provincial/territorial office dealing with occupational health and safety if you have any questions or concerns about your workplace.
Workers Compensation Resources
Workers Compensations Boards are insurance boards that protect employers from being sued by employees who are injured on the job or who become ill because of workplace conditions. They also ensure that employees will have access to income and benefits if they become injured at work or if they contract a disease caused by workplace conditions. In some jurisdictions Workers Compensation Boards provide ongoing training and resources about occupational health and safety. In this article, we've included the body responsible for providing this information and, where they are separate organizations, the link to the Workers Compensation Board.
The following sites include helpful information on occupational health and safety in each of the provinces and territories. Remember, if you have employees in more than one jurisdiction, you will need to comply with the laws of each jurisdiction in respect of the employees in that jurisdiction.
- Alberta Occupational Health and Safety
- Workers' Compensation Board of Alberta
- Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act
- Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Regulation
- Workers' Compensation Board of BC - WorkSafeBC
- BC Workers Compensation Act
- BC Workers Compensation Act Regulations
- Manitoba Labour and Immigration - Workplace Safety and Health Division
- Workers' Compensation Board of Manitoba
- Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health Act
- Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health Regulations
- WorkSafe New Brunswick
- New Brunswick Occupational Health and Safety Act
- New Brunswick Health and Safety Act Regulations
Newfoundland & Labrador
- Newfoundland & Labrador Occupational Health & Safety Division
- Workplace Newfoundland
- Newfoundland and Labrador Occupational Health and Safety Act
- Newfoundland and Labrador Health and Safety Act Regulations
- Labour, Skills and Immigration - Health and Safety
- Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia
- Nova Scotia Occupational Health and Safety Act
- Nova Scotia Health and Safety Act Regulations
Northwest Territories & Nunavut
- Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission
- Northwest Territories and Nunavut Safety Acts and Regulations
- Ontario Ministry of Labour - Occupational Health and Safety
- Workplace Safety and Insurance Board for Ontario
- Occupational Health and Safety Act and Regulations
Prince Edward Island
- Workers Compensation Board of Prince Edward Island
- Prince Edward Island Occupational Health and Safety Act
- Prince Edward Island Health and Safety Act Regulations
- La Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CSST)
- Québec Act respecting occupational health and safety and regulations
- Saskatchewan Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety
- Worksafe Saskatchewan
- Saskatchewan Workers' Compensation Board
- Saskatchewan Employment Act
- Saskatchewan Employment Act Regulations
- Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board
- Yukon Health and Safety Act
- Yukon Safety Act Regulations
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