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Health and Safety – 10 Key Requirements to Know

health and safety

In Canada, many health and safety requirements apply as soon as an organization hires its first employee. These requirements are contained in health and safety legislation, which varies from one province to the next. Failure to comply with these requirements may result in investigations, fines, prosecutions and even charges under the Criminal Code. So, it is important for employers to understand their obligations.

In this health and safety primer, we review these fundamental employee protections – focusing on the top 10 requirements that every employer should know.

1. General Health and Safety Duties

All health and safety legislation in Canada includes a general duty requiring employers to ensure the health and safety of their workers. Many provinces, including Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, also require employers to protect the safety of other persons at the workplace.

Government regulators often interpret this general duty to apply to any “gaps” in the legislation. For example, in Ontario, an employer’s general health and safety duty has been interpreted to include a duty to protect workers from musculoskeletal disorders and dangers due to workplace impairment.

Employers also have a general duty to implement required policies, provide employee information, supervision and training, cooperate with health and safety committees and ensure a safe work area, as discussed further below.

2. Health and Safety Committees

Health and safety committees, which include worker and employer representatives, are required in most Canadian workplaces – whether white-collar or blue-collar.  

Typically, employers who regularly employ 20 or more workers must establish a health and safety committee (in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland this requirement kicks in at 10 employees). The threshold for requiring workers to select a health and safety representative is very low – usually between 4-6 workers, depending on the province. 

Whether your workplace has a health and safety committee or a representative, many of the same duties and obligations apply. Generally, committees or representatives are expected to participate in investigations and inspections, advise on policies and programs, and identify workplace hazards. Employers must cooperate with committees/representatives.

For further details, see Health and Safety Committees – 3 Key Questions Answered.

3. Policies and Programs

Most Canadian employers must develop a health and safety policy. Once employers employ a specified number of workers in a province – typically 20 workers, though it is as little as 6 workers in Ontario – they must develop a more detailed health and safety program. The content of these policies and programs varies from one province to the next, but may include employee training, hazard assessments, inspections, investigation procedures and health and safety committee operations.

Note: While Quebec encourages all employers to implement “prevention programs”, currently, they are only mandated for specified industries.

4. Workplace Harassment and Violence

In addition to general health and safety policies, most jurisdictions in Canada require employers to implement workplace harassment and violence policies – regardless of how many employees they have.

Workplace harassment and violence programs must be developed in consultation with the health and safety committee or representative, as applicable. The specific requirements vary from one province to the next, but generally they include:

  • employer statements committing to preventing and protecting employees from harassment/violence
  • a process for employers and workers to follow when addressing harassment/violence, including complaint and investigation procedures.

For more information on workplace harassment and violence, see our earlier post.

5. Employee Communications

All Canadian jurisdictions require employers to post and/or make available certain health and safety information in the workplace. Again, these requirements may vary from one jurisdiction to the next, but typically employers must provide the following:

  • copies of the legislation
  • names and contact information of health and safety committee members or representatives, as applicable
  • first aid information
  • policies and procedures
  • no smoking signs
  • government inspection orders and reports.

See our earlier posts for more details on what employment information must be provided to federal and Ontario employees.

6. First Aid

Generally, employers must ensure that they have the following in their workplace:

  • a first aid kit with the required supplies
  • a first aid station and/or first aid room
  • first aid attendants (i.e., employees trained in first aid).

Some jurisdictions also require employers to conduct a first aid assessment and develop a plan for emergency transportation of injured/ill workers (e.g., British Columbia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan). Employers’ first aid obligations tend to increase if they have more employees, a higher risk workplace and/or are further from a hospital.

Note: Some jurisdictions may also have unique first aid requirements (e.g., in Ontario, most employers must have a naloxone kit in the workplace).

7. Training

All Canadian jurisdictions set out training requirements for health and safety committee members, first aid attendants and workers. Most provinces also have specific training requirements for supervisors. Typically, this training must be provided during working hours.

8. Inspections

Most employers are supposed to conduct regular health and safety inspections of the workplace. Typically, committees or representatives participate in or lead these inspections.

9. Records

Canadian employers must keep records of workplace accidents and/or first aid treatment for 2-10 years, depending on the jurisdiction. Many provinces also require employers to maintain records of worker training and workplace inspections. And most committees are responsible for maintaining records related to their duties.

10. Reprisals

All Canadian jurisdictions protect employees from employer reprisals related to health and safety. In particular, employers cannot discipline, dismiss, intimidate or otherwise penalize an employee, because the employee has exercised a right or acted in accordance with the legislation.

Workers who believe they have been subject to a reprisal can file a complaint, and the onus tends to be on the employer to establish that the reprisal was taken for a valid reason.

How Compliance Works Helps HR Professionals

Health and safety requirements may vary considerably from one jurisdiction to the next.  Compliance Works makes it quick and easy for HR professionals to compare how requirements differ across Canada.

In addition to Health and Safety, Compliance Works provides easy-to-read summaries and the latest changes on Accessibility, Employment Standards, Human Rights, Labour Relations, Official Languages, Pay Equity and Privacy.

Health and safety comparison
Health and Safety - 10 Key Requirements to Know 2

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About the author

Lesha Van Der Bij
Lesha Van Der Bij CEO and Co-Founder, Compliance Works
Lesha is a senior lawyer who spent many years of her legal career at major Canadian law firms reviewing legislation and creating easy-to-understand summaries for clients.

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