Working safest: Who’s responsible for what in the workplace
All stakeholders are accountable for their own welfare and those around them.
Many basic elements of occupational health and safety legislation such as the rights and responsibilities of workers, employers and supervisors are similar across jurisdictions in Canada, although the details and how the laws are enforced may vary.
Employers are required to take every reasonable precaution to ensure the workplace is safe and set standards for performance, while ensuring safe working conditions are always observed.
Depending on the size of the company, it establishes and maintains a health and safety committee or supports workers in the selection of at least one health and safety representative.
Employees must be trained: to use and handle equipment safely, and about any potential hazards; how to safely use, handle, store and dispose of hazardous substances; how to handle emergencies; and how to use personal protective equipment.
Employers are required to immediately report all critical injuries to the government department responsible for occupational health and safety.
Managers and supervisors act on behalf of the employer, so they’re responsible for meeting the duties of the employer as specified in the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Workers are to be provided with written instructions pertaining to protective measures and procedures. They must ensure employees work in compliance with health and safety acts and regulations; advise workers of potential and actual hazards; and ensure they use prescribed protective equipment and/or devices.
Governments are responsible for enforcement legislation, workplace inspections, incident investigations, communication of information, promotion of training, education and research and the resolution of health and safety disputes.
Employees have the right to refuse unsafe work, to participate in workplace health and safety activities and to know or be informed about actual and potential dangers in the workplace. Their responsibilities include: working in compliance with occupational health and safety acts and regulations; using personal protective equipment and clothing as directed by the employer; reporting workplace hazards and dangers to the supervisor or employer; working in a safe manner as required by the employer and use the prescribed safety equipment; and telling the supervisor or employer about any missing or defective equipment or protective device that may be dangerous.
What happens when there is a refusal for unsafe work? The employee reports the refusal to a supervisor and states why an investigation will follow and the employee returns to work if the problem is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. If the problem is not resolved, a government health and safety inspector is called who investigates and gives a decision in writing.
Legislation holds employers responsible to protect employee health and safety while inspectors in each jurisdiction carry out enforcement. Police or crown attorneys may also lay charges under Section 217.1 of the Canada Criminal Code (also known as the Westray Bill or Bill C-45). This section imposes a legal duty on employers and those who direct work to take reasonable measures to protect employees and public safety. If this duty is “wantonly” or recklessly disregarded and bodily harm or death results, an organization or individual could be charged with criminal negligence.
If you have specific concerns about regulations, consult local authorities in your jurisdiction.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) in Hamilton contributed this article. CCOHS provides information, training, education, management systems and solutions that support health and safety programs and the prevention of injury and illness in the workplace. Visit www.ccohs.ca.
This article appeared in the March-April 2020 print edition of PLANT Magazine.