OHS Canada Magazine

Roles, rules and responsibilities of workplace health and safety

July 12, 2021
By Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Hazmat Health & Safety Human Resources Young Workers ccohs editor pick Safety Basics training WHMIS

Workers need to be trained on potential and actual hazards associated with their job, provided with written instructions on the measures and procedures taken to protect them, and use all appropriate personal protective equipment and devices

WHMIS is a comprehensive system that provides health and safety information on hazardous products that are intended for use, handling, or storage in Canadian workplaces. (Canaan/Adobe Stock)

Maintaining and promoting health and safety in the workplace is important throughout the employee journey.

Whether they’re a new worker or a seasoned professional, training (and retraining) is a key factor that can help staff stay safe while on the job.

In addition to providing training, employers must abide by a number of occupational health and safety responsibilities. Many of these elements, worker rights and employer responsibilities are similar across jurisdictions in Canada.

However, the specifics around occupational health and safety legislation and how these laws are enforced can vary from one jurisdiction to another.

Although rules and regulations vary, these three rights apply to all workers in Canada:

  • The right to know about health and safety matters.
  • The right to participate in decisions that could affect their health and safety.
  • The right to refuse work that could affect their health and safety, and that of others.

Workers also have health and safety responsibilities. They must work in compliance with occupational health and safety legislation, and use personal protective equipment and clothing as directed by the employer.


Employees also have a duty to work in a safe manner, use the prescribed safety equipment, and report workplace hazards and dangers to their supervisor or employer.

To carry out their responsibilities, workers need to know what these are, and that’s where managers, supervisors and employers come in.

Managers and supervisors act on behalf of their employer. Therefore, they’re required by law to take every reasonable precaution to protect their workers, and they must ensure that workers are performing their jobs safely and are following occupational health and safety legislation.

This means that workers need to be trained on potential and actual hazards associated with their job, provided with written instructions on the measures and procedures taken to protect them, and use all appropriate personal protective equipment and devices.

Rethinking training through COVID-19

Here are some ways you can implement health and safety measures at work:

Implement and communicate a policy

A health and safety program is a requirement in any workplace, and having a written policy is key to its success.

Think of a policy as a plan of action. It indicates the degree of the employer’s commitment to health and safety and should reflect the special needs of your workplace.

The policy should also be explained and understood by any and every worker and provided in written form in the language of staff. It should be positive in tone (for example, focus on what the worker should do rather than what they should not), and periodically reviewed to evaluate its effectiveness.

The policy should be signed by leadership, and include items and statements such as the employer’s duty to give health and safety education and training to all employees, the development and maintenance of health and safety roles and procedures, and planned programs that support the commitment to workers’ health.

It should make clear that co-operation on the part of all employees is vital to the success of the health and safety policy and should be actively incorporated into the workplace and regular workplace duties and actions.

To start, it’s important to make sure all employees are aware of it and understand the policy. Workplaces can achieve this by incorporating it as part of employees’ job descriptions, and then reinforcing the commitment to health and safety by holding regular safety talks, posting signs at the workplace, by writing articles about the policy in company newsletters, posting on the internal website, and sending emails.

Ways to breathe new life into your JHSC

Create a committee

Most workplaces are legally required to have a health and safety committee or representative.

Among other things, the role of a health and safety committee or representative is to recognize and evaluate workplace hazards and participate in the development and implementation of programs to protect the employees’ safety and health.

They will respond to employee concerns and suggestions about safety and health and can create and promote programs to improve employee training and education.

Consult the most up-to-date applicable legislation in your province or territory to find out the requirements for your workplace.

Implement control measures

To help identify hazards in your workplace, perform risk assessments of specific job tasks.

During this process it is important to consult with the health and safety committee or representative, workers that perform the tasks being evaluated, and supervisors.

Once the hazards and risks have been identified, determine the appropriate control measures to protect workers.

When selecting control measures, consider the hierarchy of controls, which includes elimination/substitution controls, engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment.

Risk assessments will also help identify the specific training needs of your workers.

Provide ongoing training

The process of training workers can help keep everyone safe on the jobsite.

While training is incredibly important for new staff, keep in mind that workers who are returning after an absence or are taking on new roles or responsibilities need to go through this process, too.

When training, be sure to cover topics like worker rights and responsibilities, your organization’s specific safety rules and policies, and who to ask for help. Tour each work area in the facility to review potential hazards and safe work practices.

Don’t forget to also review emergency and evacuation procedures and the locations of first aid kits, fire extinguishers, emergency exits, and fire alarm pull boxes.

Have all employees complete an emergency notification form which can be submitted to human resources or their supervisor. Provide staff with a contact list of the health and safety committee members or representatives.

They should also know how to participate in the health and safety process, like how to report hazards. Depending on the nature of work and the potential hazards (for example: working at heights, confined spaces, mobile equipment), specific training may be required.

Consult the applicable legislation in your province or territory to ensure your workers are provided with the necessary training.

TIP: For a full onboarding checklist, visit ccohs.ca/oshanswers and type in “Orientation” in the search box.

What about WHMIS?

If you mention health and safety, you might think of WHMIS, which stands for Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System.

WHMIS is a comprehensive system that provides health and safety information on hazardous products that are intended for use, handling, or storage in Canadian workplaces.

The main components of WHMIS include hazard identification and product classification, labelling, safety data sheets, and worker education and training.

Not sure if you need to include WHMIS in your staff training? You do if you have hazardous products in your workplace.

All Canadian jurisdictions require that employers develop, implement, and maintain a worker WHMIS education and training program.

Include mental health as part of safety and health

Although workplaces have traditionally looked at workplace health from a strictly occupational health and safety perspective, mental health should be integrated in your occupational health and safety policy.

Research has shown that employees who feel they have psychological support have greater job attachment, satisfaction, involvement, and performance, and more positive work moods.

To help keep your employees psychologically safe, make mental health a priority.

Promote work-life balance and encourage staff to take their earned breaks. Show compassion and understand that priorities come up outside of work.

Check in with employees. Even a simple “How are you?” can go a long way.

Worker safety is a two-way street

Worker safety isn’t just one tip, tool, or training process. It’s a journey.

And just like any journey, there are many different routes you can take.

But no matter which way you go, don’t go it alone. By involving your staff and clearly communicating the path forward, you’ll get there together, safe and sound.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)  promotes the total well-being — physical, psychosocial, and mental health — of workers in Canada by providing information, advice, education, and management systems and solutions that support the prevention of injury and illness.

This CCOHS Corner feature appears in the July/August 2021 issue of OHS Canada.


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