What protects workers in Ontario? Oh — it’s OHSA!

From Employers to Employees – OHSA Defines Safety in Ontario

Occupational Health and Safety

Employees in Ontario are protected by the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

If you’re at work or own a business in Ontario, odds are the Occupational Health and Safety Act is relevant to you. OHSA applies to almost every worker, supervisor, employer and workplace in the province. Under the Act, employees, supervisors, and employers have certain rights and responsibilities to ensure that employees are not hurt at work or subject to violence.
Let’s break it down by category – from bosses, to supervisors, to employees.

Employer Responsibilities

Employer responsibilities are in section 25 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Some of these include:

  1. Take Reasonable Precautions: Employers must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers.
  2. Equipment, Materials and Protective Devices: Employers must provide the required equipment, materials and protective devices, to ensure that they are in good condition, and to ensure that they are being used properly by workers.
  3. Appointing Competent Supervisors: Employers are also under a duty to make sure that site supervisors know enough and have enough experience and training to keep workers safe and healthy while they work.
  4. Create Health and Safety Policies and Procedures: Employers are also required prepare and review a written occupational health and safety policy and develop and maintain a program to implement that policy.
  5. Cooperate with the Health and Safety Committee: Employers have a duty to cooperate and assist the health and safety committee representatives.
  6. Health and Safety Training: The Ministry of Labour says that what you don’t known can hurt you. Employers are required to ensure that their employees complete a health and safety awareness training program before they start work—you have probably completed one of these programs if you have ever been employed. This training should tell the employee about both their and their employer’s duties and rights under the Act, common workplace hazards and occupational illnesses that they could be exposed to, WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System), and the roles of health and safety representatives, joint health and safety committees, and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

Supervisor Responsibilities

The main duties of supervisors are listed under section 27 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. These include:

  1. Take Reasonable Precautions: Like the employer, supervisors also have a duty to take every reasonable precaution for the protection of a worker.
  2. Ensure Safe Work: Supervisors have a duty to ensure that workers are working in a safe manner with protective devices, measures and procedures required by the Act and are using or wearing required equipment, protective devices or clothing.
  3. Provide Information and Instructions: Supervisors are also required to advise workers of potential or actual dangers to their health and safety and to provide them with written instructions respecting the protection measures and procedures.

Worker’s Rights and Responsibilities

Workers have the right under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, all of which relate to the right to be safe at work. The three main rights of workers are:

  1. The Right to Participate: Workers have the right to report workplace hazards and to participate in resolving health and safety concerns with their employers and their workplace’s health and safety committee.
  2. The Right to Know: Workers have the right to know about any hazards in their workplace and to receive training before beginning work on the types of hazards they may be exposed to and how to respond to those hazards.
  3. The Right to Refuse Unsafe Work: Under Part V of the Act, workers have the right to refuse or stop work where their health or safety is in danger.

Workers not only have rights under the Act, they also have responsibilities. This is to ensure that neither they, nor their co-workers are subject to hazards or violence at work. These responsibilities are listed under section 28. Some of these responsibilities include:

  1. Reporting Workplace Hazards: Under the Act, workers have a responsibility to report hazards they know of to the supervisor or employer as soon as possible so that the hazards can be investigated and remedied.
  2. Wearing Protective Equipment: Workers have a responsibility to wear or use the protective equipment that is required by the Act or by their employer. This includes a duty not to disable any protective elements on machines that the worker will be using.

This is just some of what the OHSA covers. If you’re a worker – or business owner – in Ontario, you should know what’s in it and how it applies to you! And if you’re interested in workplace issues, consider the Workplace Law course in the Queen’s Certificate in Law.

– Isabelle Crew