Occupational Health and Safety
Of all areas of workplace law, occupational health and safety has perhaps been the fastest changing in recent years. From expanding protections for interns to new requirements around workplace harassment, occupational health and safety law now encompasses much more than rules to help prevent accidents at work.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “Act”) applies to the majority of Ontario businesses (with the noted exception of federal-regulated employers, such as banks and telecommunication companies, that are subject to the Canada Labour Code). The purpose of health and safety legislation is to protect workers from hazards at work. The Act explicitly explains workers rights and the steps that employers must take to establish procedures for dealing with workplace hazards.
The legislation is driven by an internal responsibility system that makes everyone in a workplace, from a labourer up to a CEO, responsible for helping to ensure safety in the workplace. Under this system, employers are responsible for establishing the necessary workplace committees, implementing procedures to deal with hazards, enforcing procedures and ensuring that all employees are working in a safe environment.
In organizations with twenty (20) or more workers on site at any time, a Joint Health and Safety Committee must also be established. This committee is responsible for performing a number of workplace tasks such as: identifying workplace hazards; taking part in consultations; making recommendations; and investigating work refusals. This list is by no means exhaustive.
Employers are best advised to speak with an experienced employment lawyer to ensure that their workplace is operating in accordance with governing health and safety law, as these requirements continue to change and differ based on whether federal or provincial laws apply to your organization. Amongst other things, however, provincially-regulated employers should ensure that they:
- routinely make available to all staff a copy of the Act, as well as explanatory materials prepared by the Ministry of Labour outlining the rights, responsibilities and duties of workers;
- (where there are at least 5 employees in the workplace) prepare a written occupational health and safety policy and make it available to all staff. This policy should be reviewed at least once per year and a related programme must be created and maintained to implement the policy; and
- prepare and implement a policy with respect to dealing with and resolving allegations of harassment and/or violence in the workplace. This policy should include clear and unambiguous language and provide for a complaint process, investigation process and resolution process (including communication of results, disciplinary and non-disciplinary action, as required).
Our occupational health and safety lawyers will work with your business to help you get the details right, improve workplace safety and respond to any disputes that may arise.