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The Foundation: Occupational Health and Safety in Ontario Workplaces

  • Issued: December 16, 2013
  • Content last reviewed: December 2013

All workplace parties have a role to play in preventing workplace related illnesses, injuries and fatalities in their workplaces. To ensure a healthy and safe environment, each workplace must have a well-functioning Internal Responsibility System (IRS) 3, appropriate policies and programs, and other protective measures.

Workplaces with over five workers are required by law to have a Health and Safety Representative. Workplaces with 20 or more workers or where a Designated Substance Regulation applies are required to have a Joint Health and Safety Committee. These formal mechanisms help ensure that all workplace parties can actively contribute to an effective IRS.

However, workplace commitment to implementing occupational health and safety policies, practices and programs varies. Some workplaces take the “watch me” approach. They exhibit excellent occupational health and safety practices and often serve as occupational health and safety champions for other workplaces. Some workplaces take the “show me” approach. These workplaces are unaware of their occupational health and safety responsibilities, but are willing to learn and comply. Some workplaces take a “make me” approach. They are willfully non-compliant and must be made to meet the requirements of the law. One factor that influences a workplace’s approach to occupational health and safety is its awareness of occupational health and safety rights and responsibilities, and the consequences of not meeting legal requirements.

Awareness Materials to Support Occupational Health and Safety in Every Workplace

Awareness of occupational health and safety rights and responsibilities is a fundamental first step in ensuring workplaces are healthy and safe. The Expert Advisory Panel highlighted the importance of awareness in recommendations that have been implemented by the Ministry of Labour.

  • Since October 1, 2012, employers must display a new workplace “Health & Safety at Work: Prevention Starts Here” poster. The poster summarizes workers’ health and safety rights and responsibilities, and the responsibilities of employers and supervisors.
  • On November 15, 2013, the ministry announced new mandatory occupational health and safety awareness training for supervisors and workers. This training comes into effect July 1, 2014 and is supported by free on-line e-learning tutorials and hard copy workbooks.

Ontario’s occupational health and safety system works to influence the level of commitment (or occupational health and safety foundation) within each workplace by providing the appropriate services. These services can include enforcing the law, where required, and/or providing support, such as training and awareness, for those who need it.

[ 3 ] 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 Occupational Health and Safety Act have a duty to report the situation to the employer or a supervisor. Employers and supervisors are, in turn, required to acquaint workers with any hazard in the work they do.

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