What is the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA)?

The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) has been the backbone of health and safety regulations in Ontario’s workplaces since 1979, with today’s version based on significant amendments made in 1990. Enforced by the Ministry of Labour, the OHSA’s overarching role is to ensure workers are protected from workplace hazards.

By providing the legal framework for employers to establish internal procedures for preventing and handling workplace hazards—including everything from hazardous materials to workplace sexual harassment—the OHSA helps employers ensure workplaces are as healthy and safe as possible for all employees in Ontario while also ensuring workers understand their rights when it comes to workplace hazards.

Who does the OHSA apply to?

The OHSA applies to almost all workers (including contractors, subcontractors, and anyone else performing work or providing a service in exchange for compensation) and workplaces. This includes the majority of small to medium-sized businesses.

A worker is defined as: “A person who performs work or supplies services for monetary compensation.”

The OHSA defines a workplace as “any land, premises, location or thing at, upon, in or near which a worker works.”

An employer is defined as, “a person who employs or contracts for the services of one or more workers.”

There are a number of occupations to which the OHSA does not apply to; however, the Act covers most workplaces. Self-employed persons who contract out work or services may also be subject to OHSA.

What are employers’ duties under the OHSA?

Employers are responsible for:

  • Taking all possible and reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of all workers
  • Ensuring that equipment, materials, and protective equipment are maintained and in good condition
  • Providing information, instruction, and supervision to protect workers and ensure their health and safety well-being
  • Co-operating with health and safety representatives and Joint Health and Safety Committees
  • Posting a copy of the OHSA in the workplace, as well as explanatory material prepared by the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development on the rights, responsibilities, and duties of workers in English and in the language majorly spoken in the workplace
  • Preparing and implementing a written occupational health and safety policy if they employ more than five workers, and reviewing that policy at least once a year

What is the role played by Joint Health and Safety Committees (JHSC)?

Joint Health and Safety Committees help enforce the Internal Responsibility System. A JHSC is made up of representatives of both workers and management. If you have 20 or more employees in your workplace, you are required to have a JHSC with at least two members. The committee member requirement goes up to four if employ a staff of 50 or more.

The powers of JHSCs include identifying hazards, carrying out workplace inspections, investigating work refusals, critical injuries, or fatalities, and making recommendations to employers on improving health and safety in the workplace.

The OHSA Ontario requires that employers cooperate with the JHSCs.

What is the role played by health and safety representatives? 

If you employ fewer than 20 but more than five workers, you are required to have a health and safety representative of the workers in place of a Joint Health and Safety Committee. Unless a designated substance (chemical agents and hazardous materials) regulation applies to your workplace, in which case you’ll be required to have a Joint Health and Safety Committee.

Your health and safety representative must be chosen by workers who don’t have managerial functions and who will be represented by the representative, or by the union if you have one.

Health and safety representatives have many of the same powers as JHSCs, except for the power to stop work. Employers are required to cooperate with the health and safety representative.

A workplace that has a staff of one to five is not required to have a JHSC or a health and safety representative unless a designated substance regulation applies to the workplace.

Who is a certified member of a JHSC?

A certified JHSC member is someone who has undertaken specialized training in occupational health and safety and has been certified by the Chief Prevention Officer under the OHSA as of April 1, 2012.

Before April 1, 2012, JHSC members were certified by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997. These certifications continue to be valid and recognized under the OHSA.

The OHSA grants specific powers to the certified member. Employers and constructors must ensure that their workplace JHSC has at least two certified members (one representing employees and the other the employer/constructor).

What are the consequences of violating the OHSA?

Employers are responsible for complying with all of the rules and standards set out in the OHSA. Any workplace that does not comply with the OHSA can be found liable to pay fines of up to $500,000. Corporations can face greater fines of up to $1,500,000. In addition, business owners can be imprisoned for failing to comply with provincial health and safety laws.

Not sure if you’re following the OHSA to code?

Understanding the terms and requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Act can be confusing. If you have any questions or want to make sure you’re up to code, we can help. Give us a call at 1-888-216-2550.