Health and safety committees, which include worker and employer representatives, are required in most Canadian workplaces – whether white-collar or blue-collar. So, it is important for all employers to know the answers to three fundamental questions:
- When are health and safety committees required?
- What do health and safety committees do?
- What are employers’ obligations as relates to health and safety committees?
#1 When are health and safety committees required?
Occupational health and safety legislation varies from one province to the next. But, typically, employers who regularly employ 20 or more workers must establish a health and safety committee. [Note: Certain jurisdictions (e.g., Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador) have a lower threshold, requiring employers to establish a committee once they hire their 10th worker.]
Smaller workplaces, however, should not ignore these requirements. The threshold for designating a health and safety representative (as selected by workers) is very low – usually between 4-6 workers, depending on the province. And, as noted below, whether your workplace has a health and safety committee or a representative, many of the same duties and obligations apply.
Even if your workplace does not meet these requirements, you may be ordered by a government regulator to establish a committee or designate a representative where one is not otherwise required.
[Note: Currently, Quebec is a bit of an outlier in that it restricts health and safety committee requirements to specified industries (i.e., blue collar workplaces). However, once in force, Bill 59 will expand committee requirements to apply to all workplaces that meet the “20+ workers” threshold.]
#2 What do health and safety committees do?
While each province has its own health and safety legislation specifying a committee’s duties, most of these requirements tend to fall within the following “big buckets”:
- Inspections and Investigations: Participating in or conducting health and safety inspections, inquiries and investigations. This often includes workplace accident investigations.
- Policies and Programs: Advising the employer on health and safety programs, measures and procedures.
- Advice and Advocacy: Identifying and assessing workplace hazards, and recommending improvements to worker health and safety. In some jurisdictions, committees are also charged with addressing workers’ health and safety complaints.
Health and safety representatives have similar obligations. One of the main differences with committees is that they must meet regularly during normal working hours, and follow typical meeting procedures (e.g., recording minutes).
#3 What are employers’ obligations as relates to health and safety committees?
Employers must comply with the rules and requirements set out in the applicable health and safety legislation and provide the committee (or representative, as applicable) with the resources and support it needs to effectively carry out its duties.
Similar to committee duties, employer obligations vary from one jurisdiction to the next, but tend to fall within a few broad categories:
- Cooperation/Consultation: Cooperating with health and safety committees/representatives by providing them with health and safety information as required. This may include health and safety reports, assessments, and notices of work refusals and accidents. Many provinces also require employers to cooperate with committees/representatives when developing health and safety policies and programs, including those related to workplace violence and harassment.
- Employee Information: Posting names and contact information of the committee members or representative in the workplace.
- Responding to Recommendations Ensuring that health and safety concerns raised by the committee/representative are resolved in a timely manner.
- Training Ensuring committee members or the representative (as applicable) receive required training.
It is also important to remember that committee members and representatives are deemed to be at work when they are performing their duties, or attending training in connection with these duties. So, employers must pay them for this time.