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Small businesses (those with one to 99 paid employees) are big players in Canada’s economy. According to the most recent report by the Government of Canada, there were 1.21 million employer businesses in Canada, of which 1.19 million (97.9 percent) were small businesses. But don’t let the word “small” fool you - between 2020 and 2021, these businesses were responsible for 69 percent of the net employment in the private sector, adding approximately 494,300 jobs in the country.
New jobs mean new responsibilities for these small businesses, some of which can differ in scope depending on where in Canada the business operates. However, when it comes to health and safety, the employer is always responsible for creating a healthy and safe working environment - no matter where the business is located or its size.
Start with the basics: policies and committees
Although health and safety requirements vary in each jurisdiction, there are some common rules and rights that apply to all workplaces across the country. By knowing what they are, businesses of all sizes can apply them to their workplace to create a healthy and safe workplace and ensure compliance with health and safety regulations.
Step one is to have a health and safety policy in place. According to Canadian health and safety legislation, a written health and safety policy is a must for all employers. It defines your organization’s commitment and approach to maintaining a safe and healthy workplace, and it supports the promotion of your health and safety program - which leads us to the next part: who’s responsible?
Mandated by law, a health and safety committee is needed to help to promote a culture of safety. Made up of workers from both non-management and management roles, this committee puts policy into action. They meet on a regular basis to resolve health and safety issues, conduct workplace inspections, and develop health and safety programs.
If your business is too small for a committee, you might need a health and safety representative instead. This depends on where your business operates.
For example, Ontario laws mandate businesses with 6 to 19 employees to have a health and safety representative, but in British Columbia, that number is between 10 to 19. Always check with the health and safety regulations within your jurisdiction.
Establishing safe work procedures
Even though a business may be small in numbers, its safe working procedures don’t have to be diminished in size or quality. By putting procedures in place for reporting and investigating incidents, near misses, or hazards, you can prevent future occurrences.
Having emergency response procedures and first aid measures is also critical for the health and safety of your workers. By implementing and communicating these, workers can know how to respond during emergencies, like a fire or injured employee.
Working toward health and safety, together
Health and safety are the responsibility of both the employer and workers. Employers must provide a safe and healthy workplace, and workers must follow the practices and procedures that have been established. Part of this responsibility means that both parties understand the three rights of workers: the right to know, the right to participate, and the right to refuse.
The right to know outlines that workers have the right to be informed of potential or known hazards and are provided with the appropriate information before the work begins. This is where training comes in.
Central to any health and safety program is educating employees on workplace hazards and providing the appropriate training on a regular basis to perform their tasks safely.
Tip: Has your small business grown, resulting in the hiring of new employees? Make sure new hires receive orientation training to establish a strong safety foundation right from the start.
The next two rights are about worker participation and involvement and the right to refuse work they perceive is unsafe. Workers have the right to provide input on the steps their employer takes to ensure a healthy and safe workplace, and they also have the right to refuse work if they have reason to believe it’s unsafe or dangerous to themselves or others.
Each jurisdiction will have a slightly different definition, and criteria and procedures for refusing unsafe work. Although the intent is the same, understanding and implementing these rights is one of the reasons why health and safety committees or representatives are critical for businesses, no matter the size.
The bottom line
Under Canadian occupational health and safety legislation, it’s the employer’s duty to take all reasonable and practicable measures necessary to protect the health and safety of their workers.
This means employers must prepare, review, and maintain a health and safety policy, establish a committee or representative, respond to their recommendations, and provide information, instruction, and supervision to ensure employee health and safety.
While this might seem like a lot of work for a small business owner, it doesn’t have to be onerous.
For example, you can include safety updates on your staff meeting agendas. Displaying health and safety memos and infographics are another great way to visually communicate health and safety information, and for written communication, like a newsletter or email to staff, add a health and safety section. These actions demonstrate your efforts and commitment to creating a safer environment for your employees.
Prioritizing safety comes with business benefits, too: improved productivity, a boost to employee morale, protection against business interruptions, improved reliability, and greater public perception, just to name a few.
The bottom line is that it makes good sense to prioritize workplace health and safety, no matter the size of your business. By educating yourself and your workers, you can create an environment that your workers deserve - a safe one.
Tips and Tools
Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, spreads among wild aquatic birds but can also infect domestic poultry and mammals. While human infection is rare, the A(H5N1) strain can cause severe disease. Symptoms can include coughing, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches and headaches. In severe cases, A(H5N1) can cause pneumonia, seizures and death. That’s why it’s important to control the disease and protect workers who care for or handle mammals, including poultry farm, veterinary and wildlife workers, and others at greater risk. Here are 10 control measures that can reduce the risk of infection.
In low-risk settings, including working with healthy poultry where there is no known local A(H5N1) detection:
In high-risk settings, including the culling of infected birds or other animals, layer on these additional measures:
Employers and workers in the Ontario construction industry can access the free Silica Control Tool to help protect against exposure to crystalline silica. Construction industry workers are among the occupations at highest risk for exposure to this fine dust created through processes like sanding, which can cause serious health effects when inhaled, including lung disease.
The Silica Control Tool aims to reduce the risks of silica exposure by identifying processes that may lead to potentially hazardous exposures, providing information on how to bring those exposures within the allowable limit, and producing an exposure control plan.
The Silica Control Tool was originally developed by the British Columbia Construction Safety Alliance. The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) worked together with partners to adapt the tool to protect Ontario workers.
For more information and to register, visit the OHCOW website.
CCOHS releases new podcasts each month to help you stay current and informed on workplace health, safety, and well-being in Canada.
New Podcast: Top Picks for Travel Tips
Despite the season or destination, safety should always be a critical part of your travel plans. From planning and preparation all the way to hotel precautions and communication procedures, we’ll review timely and relevant tips for a safe and healthy trip.
Podcast runs: 7:23 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Fighting Fatigue in the Workplace
CCOHS discusses the causes of fatigue and shares tips on ways workers and employers can fight fatigue in the workplace.
Podcast runs 2:27 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Learn about the workplace impacts of climate change as part of our new and updated online course offerings.
Workplaces that anticipate and plan for the impacts of climate change will be more resilient. In this free course, you’ll learn about the effects of climate change on the workplace and how to navigate through climate-related challenges.
If you’re a health and safety committee member or representative in a federally regulated workplace, this course will help you understand your duties and how they contribute to the internal responsibility system.
Workplace inspections are an essential element of your health and safety program. This course will teach you how to effectively plan, conduct, and document workplace inspections.
Preventing the re-occurrence of workplace incidents is key to protecting workers. Take this course to learn how to find the root cause, conduct an investigation, and make effective recommendations to prevent similar occurrences from happening again.
Are you studying occupational health and safety in Canada or know someone who is? We have two $3,000 scholarships to award, and you could be eligible to win.
To apply to the Dick Martin Scholarship, you will need to complete an online application and submit a cover letter outlining your career aspirations in health and safety, and a 1,200-word essay on one of two topics related to occupational health and safety:
The deadline to apply is 11:59 p.m. EST, January 31, 2024.
Scholarship rules, criteria, and other guidelines are available on the CCOHS website. Winners will be announced in early spring 2024.
Starting tomorrow, CCOHS will deliver a free, four-part webinar series on workplace mental health.
These Beyond the Assessment webinars will cover program development, how to address hazards and risks, how to hold meaningful conversations, and how to consider the intersectionality of mental health and inclusion, diversity, and equity.
Register for each webinar individually to save your spot or attend the entire series.
Part 1 - Healthy Workplaces
Wednesday, November 22, 2023
11:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. EST
Learn how to apply assessment tool results to begin developing a mental health program for your workplace.
Register now for tomorrow’s first session – there are still a few spots left.
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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.
© 2023, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety