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The Internal Responsibility System

  • Revised: March 20, 2015
  • Content last reviewed: March 2015
  • Also available in Spanish [PDF, 729 Kb / 82 pages ]

Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help the workplace parties understand some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations. For further information please see full disclaimer.

One of the primary purposes of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) is to facilitate a strong Internal Responsibility System (IRS) in the workplace. To this end, the OHSA lays out the duties of employers, supervisors, workers, constructors and workplace owners.

Workplace parties’ compliance with their respective statutory duties is essential to the establishment of a strong IRS in the workplace.

Simply put, the IRS means that everyone in the workplace has a role to play in keeping workplaces safe and healthy. Workers in the workplace who see a health and safety problem such as a hazard or contravention of the OHSA in the workplace have a statutory duty to report the situation to the employer or a supervisor. Employers and supervisors are, in turn, required to address those situations and acquaint workers with any hazard in the work that they do.

The IRS helps support a safe and healthy workplace. In addition to the workplace parties' compliance with their legal duties, the IRS is further supported by well-defined health and safety policies and programs, including the design, control, monitoring and supervision of the work being performed.

Roles and Responsibilities

The Employer

The employer, typically represented by senior management, has the greatest responsibilities with respect to health and safety in the workplace and is responsible for taking every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker. The employer is responsible for ensuring that the IRS is established, promoted, and that it functions successfully. A strong IRS is an important element of a strong health and safety culture in a workplace. A strong health and safety culture shows respect for the people in the workplace.


Supervisors are responsible for making workers fully aware of the hazards that may be encountered on the job or in the workplace; ensuring that they work safely, responding to any of the hazards brought to their attention, including taking every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.


Worker responsibilities include: reporting hazards in the workplace; working safely and following safe work practices; using the required personal protective equipment for the job at hand; participating in health and safety programs established for the workplace.

Health and Safety Representatives/Joint Health and Safety Committees

The health and safety representative, or the joint health and safety committee (JHSC) where applicable, contribute to workplace health and safety because of their involvement with health and safety issues, and by assessing the effectiveness of the IRS. More information on the roles of the joint health and safety committee and the health and safety representative can be found in this guide and the Guide for Joint Health and Safety Committees and Health and Safety Representatives in the Workplace.

External Parties

Parties and organizations external to the workplace also contribute to workplace health and safety. These include the Ministry of Labour (MOL), the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), and the health and safety system partners. The MOL's primary role is to set, communicate, and enforce workplace occupational health and safety standards while encouraging greater workplace self-reliance.

As of April 2012, in addition to the enforcement responsibilities noted above, the Ministry is also responsible for developing, coordinating and implementing strategies to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses and set standards for health and safety training. Some of the ways that it carries out its prevention mandate include establishing a provincial occupational health and safety strategy, promoting the alignment of prevention activities across all workplace health and safety system partners and working with Ontario's Health and Safety Associations (HSAs) to ensure effective delivery of prevention programs and services.

The Three Rights of Workers

The OHSA gives workers three important rights:

  1. The right to know about hazards in their work and get information, supervision and instruction to protect their health and safety on the job.
  2. The right to participate in identifying and solving workplace health and safety problems either through a health and safety representative or a worker member of a joint health and safety committee.
  3. The right to refuse work that they believe is dangerous to their health and safety or that of any other worker in the workplace.

The Right to Know

Workers have the right to know about any potential hazards to which they may be exposed in the workplace. The primary way that workers can become aware of hazards in the workplace is to be informed and instructed on how to protect their health and safety, including health and safety related to the use of machinery, equipment, working conditions, processes and hazardous substances.

The employer can enable the workers' right to know in various ways, such as making sure they get:

  • Information about the hazards in the work they are doing
  • Training to do the work in a healthy and safe way
  • Competent supervision to stay healthy and safe.

The Right to Participate

Workers have the right to be part of the process of identifying and resolving workplace health and safety concerns. This right is expressed through direct worker participation in health and safety in the workplace and/or through worker membership on joint health and safety committees or through worker health and safety representatives.

The Right to Refuse

Workers have the right to refuse work that they believe is dangerous to either their own health and safety or that of another worker in the workplace. For example, workers may refuse work if they believe their health and safety is endangered by any equipment they are to use or by the physical conditions of the workplace. Section 43 of the Act describes the exact process for refusing work and the responsibilities of the employer/supervisor in responding to such a refusal.

In certain circumstances, members of a joint health and safety committee who are “certified” have the right to stop work that is dangerous to any worker. Sections 45 – 47 of the Act sets out these circumstances and how the right to stop work can be exercised.

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