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The Occupational Health and Safety Act: FAQs

  • Content last reviewed: October 2013

What Ontario legislation now applies to workplace health and safety?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) is Ontario's cornerstone legislation for workplace health and safety. Other contributing legislation includes the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA), Part II of which deals with the prevention of occupational injury and disease and the Human Rights Code, which often has to be considered in dealing with OHS issues. Both OHSA and WSIA are available along with all of Ontario's other Acts and regulations at the e-Laws website.

In general, what does OHSA require?

The main purpose of the Act 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).

More about the OHSA.

Who is covered by OHSA?

OHSA applies to almost every worker, supervisor, employer and workplace in Ontario, including workplace owners, constructors and suppliers of equipment or materials to workplaces covered by the Act.

OHSA does not apply to:

  • Work done by the owner or occupant, or a servant, in a private residence or on the connected land [Section 3(1)];
  • Workplaces under federal jurisdiction, although federal authorities accept that outside contractors and their employees, while in federal workplaces, are under provincial jurisdiction.

What are "federal" workplaces and how are they regulated?

Workplaces under federal jurisdiction are regulated by the Canada Labour Code, which is administered by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

The OHSA does not apply to:

  • post offices
  • airlines and airports
  • banks
  • some grain elevators
  • telecommunication companies, and
  • interprovincial trucking, shipping, railway and bus companies.

What regulations have been made under OHSA?

Regulations made under OHSA may be sector, work or hazard specific.

Sector-specific regulations apply to a particular sector. There are sector-specific regulations for:

Certain types of hazardous work are covered by their own regulations:

Health hazards are either covered by the sector regulations or separate hazard-specific regulations, including:

There is also a fourth set of regulations that do not fall into these categories. Some clarify requirements in OHSA, such as defining "critical injury", or specifying that the employer must pay for JHSC member certification training. Others extend the application of OHSA; examples are the regulations for farming operations, or for teachers and for university academics and teaching assistants. The most far-reaching of these regulations is the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) regulation.

How are OHSA and Regulations enforced?

The Ministry's goal is for all workplaces to achieve self-compliance with OHSA and regulations through a well-functioning Internal Responsibility System (IRS). Where this does not happen, progressive enforcement results. Enforcement begins with the issuing of orders and may proceed to prosecution.

Inspectors are the enforcement arm of the Ministry of Labour; their role includes the following:

  • inspection of workplaces
  • issuing of orders where there is a contravention of OHSA or its regulations
  • investigation of accidents and work refusals
  • resolution of disputes
  • recommendation of prosecution.

The powers an inspector may use to fulfil this role are set out in OHSA Sections 54 to 57. A prosecution may be initiated against anyone having duties mentioned in OHSA Sections 23 to 32, including a:

  • constructor
  • owner
  • employer
  • architect
  • supervisor
  • engineer
  • worker
  • director or officer of a corporation
  • licensee (a holder of a logging licence under the Crown Timber Act)
  • supplier

What are the penalties for not complying with OHSA and its regulations?

The maximum penalties for a contravention of OHSA or its regulations are set out in OHSA Section 66. A successful prosecution could, for each conviction, result in:

  • A fine of up to $25,000 for an individual person and/or up to 12 months imprisonment;
  • A fine of up to $500,000 for a corporation.

What is the Internal Responsibility System (IRS)?

The IRS gives everyone within an organization direct responsibility for health and safety as an essential part of his or her job. It does not matter who or where the person is in the organization, they achieve health and safety in a way that suits the kind of work they do. Each person takes initiative on health and safety issues and works to solve problems and make improvements on an ongoing basis. They do this both singly and co-operatively with others. Successful implementation of the IRS should result in progressively longer intervals between accidents or work-related illnesses.

More about IRS

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