Canadian Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) Laws
Occupational Health and Safety Laws in Canada
The laws that govern health and safety in the workplace provide a minimum level of protection that must be maintained. Employers are encouraged to exceed these minimum standards.
Each of the ten provinces, three territories and the federal government has its own set of laws (or legislation). In each province or territory, there is an Act - typically called the Occupational Health and Safety Act or something similar - that applies to most workplaces in that region.
About 90% of Canadian workers are covered by the legislation of the province or territory where they work. There are some exceptions (such as in a private home or on a farm) so the legislation should be consulted to find out which workplaces are covered and which are not. The laws of the federal government cover the remaining 10% of workers such as federal government employees or people involved in the transportation, broadcasting, or banking industries.
The guiding principle of Canadian occupational health and safety laws is that everyone has a responsibility to help make the workplace a safe and healthy place. This system means both the employer and the employee should work together to establish and maintain a safe workplace. This principle is known as the "Internal Responsibility System". It is the employer, however, that is held responsible if the laws are not followed.
Some laws are very specific and it is easy to tell what you have to do. However, many laws are not specific, and since every potential situation can't be predicted, there is a clause in occupational health and safety regulations called the "general 177 duty clause". This clause means that employers shall take all reasonable precautions, under the particular circumstances, to prevent injuries or accidents in the workplace. This duty applies to situations that are not addressed elsewhere in the occupational heath and safety legislation. For example, an employer must implement a plan to identify possible workplace hazards and carry out the appropriate corrective measures to prevent accidents or injuries arising from these hazards.
Roles and Responsibilities Under the Law
The purpose of workplace health and safety legislation is to protect you, the worker, from hazards on the job. It outlines the general rights and responsibilities of the employee, supervisor, employer, and government. Everyone is to work together to ensure a safe workplace.
The employee has three basic rights at work:
- The "right to refuse" means that a worker can refuse work that they believe will be dangerous to themselves or their coworkers. (Specific steps must be followed when a refusal is initiated.) The employees also have the right to report unsafe practices and conditions in the workplace (without fear of being fired, etc).
- The "right to know" about any hazards that exist in the workplace and how these hazards may effect them. Training programs are one way employees learn about the hazards at work. Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) and safety training are also part of this "right to know" philosophy.
- The "right to participate" is often achieved by establishing a health and safety committee. If such a committee does not exist in the workplace, a health and safety representative may be appointed, or there may be a system in place to allow for employee input.
An employee must:
A supervisor must:
An employer must:
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