Worker Safety 101: An Employer Guide

Health, Safety, and New Training Requirements

When most people think of health and safety in the workplace, the first image that comes to mind is usually a dangerous work environment such as a construction zone, and with good reason. There have been several notable workplace injuries on construction sites in recent months, including a few fatalities in Toronto this summer. In one incident, a worker on a housing site was trapped waist-deep in a trench, and emergency crews were unable to free him. In another incident, a worker cleaning an eavestrough chose to move a tall ladder by himself when the ladder contacted a nearby hydro wire, electrocuting him. Both men were hardworking fathers with young children.

These stories may sound extreme, yet they serve as very real reminder of the dangers presented by avoidable workplace hazards. Yet workplace hazards are not relegated to construction zones – they exist in every workplace. Even in a commercial office space, workplace hazards such as coffee spills, tangled wires, or heavy boxes can present potential workplace health and safety challenges. This is why the Ministry of Labour recently amended the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1990 (“OHSA”) to insist that all workplaces, including employers, supervisors, and employees undergo mandatory basic health and safety training as of July 1, 2014.

The training itself is rather basic and comes in two different variations – one for workers (the OHSA defines ‘worker’ as a person who performs or supplies work for monetary compensation), and one for employers and supervisors. The crux of the training is that everyone in the workplace understands each others roles in promoting health and safety as part of the Internal Responsibility System. The simple truth is that everyone in the workplace has a role to play in the health and safety process, and each individual is responsible not just for their own safety, but also for the safety of their co-workers.

For workers, the training is mostly focused on defining hazards and exploring how to prevent them in the workplace. All workers have three key rights at work: the Right to Know, the Right to Participate, and the Right to Refuse:

  • The Right to Know consists of being made aware of hazards, and the right to receive training on how to work safely.
  • The Right to Participate is the right to become actively involved in workplace health and safety, whether as a representative or on a Joint Health and Safety Committee for larger workplaces.
  • Lastly, the Right to Refuse is the right to refuse unsafe working conditions, and to have hazards properly investigated and controlled or eliminated, where possible.

For supervisors and employers, the key facet is competency. All supervisors must ensure that they meet basic competencies in order to supervise work, which includes being familiar with how to do the work safely, and knowing where to find appropriate resources. Supervisors must also be aware of the role of health and safety representatives, including Joint Health and Safety Committees for workplaces with more than 20 people, and Health and Safety Representatives for workplaces with less than 20 employees. Management is required to meet with the safety representatives and committees regularly to address concerns and ensure the continued safety of the workplace.

The number of workers who suffer a workplace illness or injury each year would fill a dozen large hockey arenas. The new OHSA training requirements ensure that everyone in the workplace keeps health and safety top of mind. Training is mandatory, and can be easily accessed through the Ministry of Labour or through a third-party vendor. All businesses need training to be compliant with the legislation, and what your workers know today could prevent serious illness or injury in the future.

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Jordan Rodney is President with MaxPeoplePerform, a Human Resources Consulting organization that partners with its clients to build and sustain productive and healthy workplaces. For more information on health and safety training, or for assistance in implementing training in your workplace, contact Jordan Rodney at (905) 695-5995 or at

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