Who Is Required to Have a Workplace Health and Safety Policy?
As per the Occupational Health and Safety Act, in Ontario, most employers must create and then review a written workplace health and safety policy once a year.
Specifically, employers with six or more workers must create a written health and safety policy.
Employers with five or fewer workers do not require a written workplace health and safety policy, but they should make one anyway to promote safety and help avoid liability.
Not having a workplace policy is an offence when it is required. Moreover, not having a workplace health and safety policy can be used against an employer in a prosecution.
Who Should Draft the Workplace Health and Safety Policy?
Management should contemplate and create the health and safety policy in coordination with the employer’s health and safety committee (such a committee should be created if there isn’t one yet).
How Should the Workplace Health and Safety Policy be Circulated?
The workplace health and safety policy should be circulated to new hires over email (and to all workers if there are any changes to the policy) and, more importantly, posted in a suitable location in the workplace. Some employers have online dashboards for employees, and employers should post the health and safety policy there.
What are the Health and Safety Policy Requirements?
There are no specific requirements for a workplace health and safety policy except that it should be reasonable in the circumstances. To that effect, a good workplace health and safety policy provides clear directions, tailored to the specific size, type and scale of each workplace to promote the health and safety of workers.
To be clear, the best workplace health and safety policies are considerate of the specific requirements of each workplace. A health and safety policy at an office will look very different to a business that refines oil. Still, they should both consider any particular circumstances, dangers and solutions to protect the health and safety of their workers.
Some statements for a solid workplace policy that generally applies to all employers in Ontario include:
- A commitment from management to promote and health and safety
- A commitment from management that the goal of the health and safety policy is to keep everyone safe and healthy
- A commitment that management is in charge of health and safety and is so accountable
- A commitment from management that health and safety are paramount and integral to the workplace; that health and safety are equal to or above all other interests no matter the circumstances
- A commitment that the organization will train management and all workers about workplace safety
- A commitment that management will provide equipment and devices to protect health and safety
- A commitment from management to promote and utilize co-operation between management and workers regarding health and safety
- A commitment that management will review its health and safety policy regularly and make changes as soon as required
- A commitment that management will implement a specific more narrow program to promote and enforce workplace health and safety
- A commitment that management will post and communicate the health and safety policy, program(s), changes and refreshers.
- A commitment that management and workers can freely and openly provide feedback, criticisms, or complaints about safety without fear of reprisal
- Reference to documents and other sub-policies that speak to the micro-health and safety programs in place at the workplace, such as, for example, procedures, training, programs and application-specific safety (i.e., eye-water station guide).
- A commitment that management will discipline all management and staff for breaking the health and safety policy and programs
Finally, as per a Ministry of Labour policy statement, an employer’s health and safety policy “should be signed by the employer and the highest level of management, thus indicating employer and senior management commitment”.
Health and Safety Program Requirements?
In addition to the requirement of a written health and safety policy, employers must also develop and maintain a “Program” to implement that policy.
A Health and Safety Policy should be a broad statement, whereas a Health and Safety Program should be a narrow direction on all facets of safety at specific workplaces. For example, “lunch box” talks are a Health and Safety Program at construction sites that does not need to be explained in the Policy.
A Health and Safety Program will be much more specific than a Policy and deal with each danger and hazard and how to work safely among these dangers and hazards. The Program backs up the Policy. For example, there could be a program for washing hands or working with boiling water, etc.
Unfortunately, I cannot advise on each danger or hazard program because that would be endless. What’s important is that a lawyer does not need to write your health and safety programs. The best person to consult with is management, the health and safety committee, workers, and applicable third parties, like engineers or equipment manufacturers.
Jeff is an employment lawyer in Toronto. Jeff is a frequent lecturer on employment law and is the author of an employment law textbook and various trade journal articles.