Small businesses are big contributors to Canada’s economy. They make up about 98% of all Canadian businesses, employ close to half of the private sector labour force, and contribute more than 30 percent to Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP). Statistics Canada defines a small business as one that has fewer than 100 employees.
Despite their importance to the overall economy, many small businesses face challenges establishing a health and safety program. Besides all that goes with the everyday running of a business, making sure workers are safe presents additional responsibilities. This can be particularly challenging for small business owners who might lack the specialized knowledge to identify workplace hazards and have limited resources.
Small Business Challenges
Running a business is a lot of work. Small business owners are used to working with a tight budget and lean staff. These limited resources can prevent the implementation of workplace health and safety activities. There is often a general lack of awareness regarding legal requirements, sources for information, and training.
A 2014 Ontario Ministry of Labour report revealed that the most frequently issued orders at small business inspections were for employers failing to: post the Occupational Health and Safety Act in the workplace; take reasonable precautions to protect worker health and safety; and prepare a health and safety policy and maintain a program to implement that policy.
Health and safety legislation across the jurisdictions in Canada is similar; however variances in the regulatory requirements do exist in some areas. Most jurisdictions require employers to establish health and safety committees or designate a health and safety representative if they employ a certain number of workers. Check the legislation in your jurisdiction for exact requirements.
Being a committee member or representative involves training in health and safety law as well as the identification, assessment and control of workplace hazards. A health and safety committee consists of employee and management representatives who meet on a regular basis to resolve health and safety issues. Usually there are equal numbers of management and non-management members, but at least half of the members must be non-management.
The role of committees and representatives is to help employers: identify and control hazards; resolve health and safety concerns and complaints; develop, implement and evaluate health and safety programs; conduct workplace inspections; investigate accidents and incidents; and resolve work refusals.
According to Canadian health and safety legislation the employer and employees are jointly responsible for health and safety. Employers must provide a safe and healthy workplace and employees must follow the practices and procedures established by the employer.
Under Canadian occupational health and safety legislation, employers have the duty to take all reasonably practicable measures in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of the worker.
The following are key regulatory requirements that the employers must meet:
- Prepare, review, and maintain health and safety policy.
- Establish a health and safety committee or ensure selection of a health and safety representative.
- Respond to recommendations of the health and safety committee or a representative.
- Provide information, instruction, and supervision to ensure employee health and safety.
- Provide and maintain personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Investigate and report accidents and illnesses.
- Control safety hazards and exposure to hazardous substances.
- Establish an occupational health service
- Post in the workplace copies of the Health and Safety Act and other documents as required by the legislation
- Meet prescribed standards.
The Benefits for Business
Business owners are required to comply with health and safety legislation. However, employee health and safety is not just about compliance with the law. An effective health and safety program can improve productivity and have a positive effect on your bottom line. Benefits of an effective health and safety program can include: reduced operating costs, protection against business interruption, improved employee relations, improved reliability and productivity, and enhanced public image and trust.
When you look at the alternative and the consequences of a serious incident, the impact on a small business can be ruinous. It is far more difficult for a small business to recover from a health and safety incident, and the relative impact is greater than on larger enterprises. In the wake of an incident, a small business may find it difficult to quickly replace key workers. Short-term interruptions of business can lead to the loss of clients and important contracts. Serious incidents could lead to the closure of a business due to the costs associated with an accident or the loss of contracts and/or customers.
A high-performing workplace health and safety program can give your business a competitive advantage. A strong safety culture means a safe and healthy workplace, with a good relationship between management and workers, fewer disruptions and delays in production and services, improved customer service, and a better bottom line.
- Healthy Workplaces website, CCOHS
- OH&S Legislation in Canada - Basic Responsibilities fact sheet, CCOHS
- Health and Safety For Small Business e-course, CCOHS
- Small Business Health and Safety Certificate Program, CCOHS
- Health and Safety Committees fact sheets, CCOHS
- Canadian Government Departments Responsible for OH&S fact sheet, CCOHS
- Small Business, Public Services Health and Safety Association
- Safety and health in micro and small enterprises, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA)
- Health and Safety Checklist for Small Business Owners, Workplace Safety North
In the News
In the early hours of June 16, 2016, a small fishing vessel, with three crew members onboard, capsized just 240 meters off the cost of Salmon Beach, New Brunswick. All three of the crew members were thrown into the cold water. One crew member managed to climb onto the overturned vessel where he waited until another fishing vessel sighted the capsized boat. He was the only survivor.
An accident investigation determined that the crew members were not wearing personal flotation devices at the time of entering the water, which reduced their chances of survival.
"This kind of tragedy is all-too-familiar in Canada's commercial fishing industry, where an average of 10 fishermen die each year," said Joseph Hincke, Board member of the Transportation Safety Board. "In nearly every other industry across Canada, provincial health and safety regulations set out rules to reduce the risks and promote a safe and healthy work environment. Commercial fishing, however, is not always included. This needs to change".
The Transportation Safety Board believes that making it a requirement for those working on commercial fishing vessels to wear personal flotation devices would significantly reduce the loss of life associated with going overboard. They are recommending that the government of New Brunswick and WorkSafeNB require persons to wear suitable personal flotation devices at all times when onboard commercial fishing vessels and that WorkSafeNB ensure that programs are developed to confirm compliance.
Visit the Transportation Safety Board of Canada website to read the news release.
Fishing safety resources:
Tips & Tools
Arthritis affects over 2.5 million Canadian workers regardless of their age or gender. The joint pain, discomfort, and disability that come with the disease can make work difficult. Here are some tips to help manage arthritis and protect your joints while at work.
A well-organized work environment can help you work more safely and efficiently, and at the same time minimize your joint pain. It may also improve your stamina, concentration, mobility and agility as well as decrease anxiety, stress and fatigue.
Tips to help you organize your work environment:
- Arrange your work space so that commonly used items are within easy reach.
- Use a chair mat to make it easy to slide or turn your chair.
- If you stand a lot at work, try to arrange your workspace so that you can stand square to your workstation and avoid bending or twisting.
- If you have to stand for long periods of time on hard flooring, use rubber matting or anti-fatigue matting to relieve strain on your lower back and legs.
- To reach items on high shelves use a step stool to reduce the strain from over-reaching and arching your lower back.
- Use knee pads when kneeling.
- Make sure the temperature in your work area is comfortable.
- Ask your employer if door knobs can be replaced with levers (it is easier on the wrist to push down on a lever than to twist a knob).
Good posture can help you maintain energy levels throughout the day. Here are some tips to improve your sitting posture:
- While working at a desk, sit in a comfortable chair that supports your lower and mid-back (make sure the backrest meets the small of your back) as well as your thighs and buttocks.
- Make sure the chair is a comfortable distance from the computer to avoid over-reaching.
- Sit upright with square shoulders. Your shoulders should be relaxed but not slumped. Your hips and knees should be at 90 degrees.
- Adjust the height of your chair if necessary so that your feet are flat on the floor — you don’t want your feet dangling. If you can’t lower your seat, use a footrest. Your hips should be slightly higher than your knees so make sure your footrest isn’t too high. It may be necessary to adjust the desk height as well.
- Make sure your chair seat is level or sloping slightly upwards at the front — never downwards.
- Check that your armrests are at the right height — if you have to hunch your shoulders then the armrests are too high, but if your elbows don’t reach them they are too low. Your elbows should be at a relaxed 90-degree angle to the keyboard and your back should be straight.
- Change your body position often. For example, stand up or stretch if you have been sitting for a while. If you need to, use a timer or software program to remind yourself to switch positions.
In 2015, the Government of Canada updated the rules for the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), a national system designed to give employers and workers information about hazardous products used in the workplace. WHMIS 2015 includes new definitions, new harmonized criteria for hazard classification, and new rules for supplier labels and safety data sheets (SDSs). Suppliers and employers importing hazardous products for use at their workplace and/or selling (including distributing) hazardous products are required to keep “specific purchasing and/or sales information” for six years after the end of the year to which they relate. Those who manufacture and sell hazardous products must keep “specific sales information”.
Now, to increase WHMIS 2015 awareness, Health Canada is running a WHMIS 2015 compliance and enforcement initiative.
From July-September 2017, select employers and suppliers in federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions will receive a compliance promotion package, which contains information helpful to understanding the new WHMIS 2015 requirements. Some of these resources are listed below.
From October 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017 specially designated Hazardous Product Act (HPA) inspectors may visit your workplace to inspect and promote compliance. HPA inspectors may request a copy of your “specific purchasing information” and/or your “specific sales information,” and up to five data sheets/labels for your hazardous products. HPA inspectors may not provide advance notice of the inspection.
For WHMIS updates you can visit http://www.whmis.org/ .
Free WHMIS 2015 Training and Resources from CCOHS:
- WHMIS 2015: An Introduction e-course
- GHS Classification of Substances: An Introduction webinar
- GHS Classification of Mixtures: An Introduction webinar
- How to write a GHS Label webinar
- WHMIS 2015 – How Canada is Adopting the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) for Workplace Chemicals webinar
- WHMIS 2015 – General Information
- WHMIS 2015 Fact Sheets
- WHMIS 2015 Labels poster
- WHMIS 2015 Pictograms Kit, individual downloads
Health and Safety To Go
This month’s podcasts explain how to prevent workplace injuries that are the result of slips, trips, or falls from the same level, and feature an encore presentation of Arthritis in the Workplace.
Feature Podcast: Slips, Trips, and Falls: Preventing Workplace Injuries
Falls from slips and trips are common workplace occurrences that can result in serious injuries and disabilities. In this podcast episode, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) explains how to prevent workplace injuries that are the result of slips, trips, or falls from the same level.
The podcast runs 5:07 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Arthritis in the Workplace
Arthritis is one of the leading causes of disability in Canada and typically occurs during the prime working years, between ages 35-50. It is predicted that more than seven million Canadian adults will be diagnosed with arthritis in the next 20 years. Learn what steps you can take to reduce the adverse effects of arthritis in the workplace.
The podcast runs 5:24 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2017, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Length: 5:24 minutes
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