HR Policies & Employment Legislation
Health & Safety Legislation
Occupational health and safety legislation regulates the standards of workplace health and safety with the aim to prevent workplace accidents, injuries and diseases, and outlines consequences for breaches of those standards. It details responsibilities of employers, supervisors, and employees. 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.
To help an organization plan and follow through on this legislation, employers are responsible for establishing a health and safety committee or have a health and safety representative (see below).
Health and Safety Committee
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.
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.
Based on British Columbia’s Workers Compensation Act, 1996, 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 training and education is optional.
Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2000, the committee is called a Joint Work Site Health and Safety Committee; it is legally required as directed by the minister (not necessarily based on the number of employees in the organization); there must be a minimum of 3 and not more than 12 representatives; the committee must consist of at least two employees and one employer or at least half employees; and there is no mandatory training requirements.
Committees should meet on a regular basis and record minutes in order to maintain effectiveness. Some legislation specifies the number of meetings required (i.e. on a quarterly basis) and a form for recording meeting minutes. 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.
Health and Safety Representatives
In smaller organizations (less than a specified number of employees, as outlined by the applicable legislation) a health and safety representative is generally required. This position would have the same or similar responsibilities and authority as the health and safety committee and is selected by the workers. For links to health and safety representative requirements in your jurisdiction visit: http://hrcouncil.ca/hr-toolkit/policies-health-safety.cfm.
Health and safety are important issues in all workplaces and as such, organizations are required to comply with health and safety regulations and acts.
Health and safety is usually regulated by provincial or territorial legislation, unless your organization falls under federal jurisdiction. 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 for information that is relevant to you and your organization.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety provides Canada-wide health and safety information through helpful fact-sheets and links: http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/.
Consult health and safety legislation on a variety of issues, including but not limited to:
- Refusal to work because of unsafe conditions
- Violence in the workplace
- Dangerous equipment/material
- Emergency procedures
- Lifting heavy objects
- First aid skills requirements
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. See below for the websites.
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 the links below, we've included the body responsible for providing this information and, where they are separate organizations, the link to the Workers Compensation Board.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has an excellent, comprehensive websiite. The OHS Answers section addresses common questions including information about legislation and is one of the best sources of information about occupational health and safety. Many of the sites below link directly to this website for further information about key issues.
Newfoundland & Labrador
Northwest Territories & Nunavut
Prince Edward Island