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A Canadian employer who is covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), has the duty to take every reasonable precaution for the protection of a worker (the so-called “general duty clause”). The Ministry of Labour enforces the Occupational Health and Safety Act. (In some provinces, e.g. British Columbia, the enforcement and compensation activities are combined in one agency).
Please note that, in each province or territory, there is an act (typically called the Occupational Health and Safety Act or something similar) which applies to most workplaces in that region and has regulations specific to that territory or region. You could normally find the act applied to your region from the website of the workplace compensation board (WCB) of your province (see WCB websites of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Yukon).
The main purpose of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) is to protect workers from health and safety hazards on the job. It sets out duties for all workplace parties and rights for workers. It establishes procedures for dealing with workplace hazards and provides for enforcement of the law where compliance has not been achieved voluntarily. Fundamental to the successful working of OHSA is the workplace Internal Responsibility System (IRS) (Read more).
Workers and employers must share the responsibility for occupational health and safety. This concept of an internal responsibility system is based on the principle that the workplace parties themselves are in the best position to identify health and safety problems and to develop solutions. Ideally, the internal responsibility system involves everyone, from the company chief executive officer to the worker. How well the system works depends upon whether there is a complete, unbroken chain of responsibility and accountability for health and safety.
Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) applies to almost every worker, supervisor, employer and workplace in Canada, including workplace owners, constructors and suppliers of equipment or materials to workplaces covered by the Act. The OHSA does not apply to:
Workers’ rights under OHSA include:
A Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) is a committee of at least two persons who represent both the workers and the employer at a workplace. Their primary role is to identify workplace health and safety problems and to bring them to the attention of the employer. OHSA requires a Joint Health and Safety Committee at:
In workplaces where none of the rules above apply, workers must select a person from among themselves to be a health and safety representative.
The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is a Canada-wide system designed to give employers and workers information about hazardous materials used in the workplace. The main purpose of WHMIS is to require suppliers of hazardous materials used in the workplace to provide health and safety information about their products, as a condition of sale.
WHMIS requires employers to obtain health and safety information about hazardous materials in their workplaces and to pass it on to their workers. WHMIS represents the workers’ “right to know”. The main elements of WHMIS are labels, “safety data sheets” (SDS), and education about workplace hazards for workers.
Suppliers, employers and workers all have specified responsibilities in the Hazardous Products Act.
Suppliers: Canadian suppliers are those who sell or import products. When this product is considered a “controlled product” according to WHMIS, a supplier must label the product or container, and they must provide a safety data sheet (SDS) to their customers. The purpose of the labels is to clearly identify the contents of the hazardous material, and the SDS is to explain what those hazards are.
Employers: Employers are required to establish education and training programs for workers exposed to hazardous products in the workplace. Employers must also make sure that the products are labelled and that an SDS is present for each product and that they are readily available to workers.
Workers: Workers are required to participate in the training programs and to use this information to help them work safely with hazardous materials. They may also inform employers when labels on containers have been accidentally removed or if the label is no longer readable.
A safety data sheet (SDS) is a technical document or bulletin that summarizes the health and safety information available about a controlled product. It supplements the warning information on the label. See an example.
Obviously, an injured worker’s first priority should be to get proper medical attention. Employers are responsible for ensuring that necessary medical treatment is provided. . It may take the form of first aid from a trained co-worker or require transportation to and treatment at a hospital. In the case of injury or illness related to work:
Health and safety concerns should first be brought to the attention of the employer or supervisor. If nothing is done, it can be taken to the worker’s health and safety representative or Joint Health and Safety Committee. If the situation is not corrected, it can be reported to the nearest office of the Ministry of Labour. Workers also have the right to refuse unsafe work. Exercising the right to refuse typically involves setting in motion a series of steps to resolve the situation. These steps, interpretation and enforcement vary by jurisdiction.
Workplaces that are covered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1990 are required by regulation to have adequate first aid equipment, facilities, and trained people.