This is a question that gets thrown around a lot these days. The simple answer is that everyone is responsible for the health & safety in the workplace. From the CEO down to the custodians, and everyone in between.

One can argue that if the upper management, the ‘C” suite, doesn’t promote a safety culture that puts the workers safety before production and profits, than there really is no safety at that workplace. Although that may have some truth to it, the fact of the matter is that you do have the ability to affect change when it comes to your workplace safety.

Every worker in Ontario has to the ‘right to refuse’ unsafe work, without reprisal from the management.  This is one of the strengths that the worker has to promote and insure a safer workplace.

Dr. James Ham was commissioned in 1976 to study and create a report on the safety in the mining industry. The final report was known as the Ham Commission and resulted in the creation of the Internal Responsibility System (IRS) among other things.

The IRS is a strategy to oversee the health and safety in the province’s workplaces that remains in force and was adopted across Canada and also internationally. It basically states that everyone from the CEO to the janitor and everyone in between are responsible for workplace safety, this includes insuring that you’re not putting the safety of a fellow worker at risk by your actions, or lack thereof.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) lists the functions of the IRS as:

  • Establishing responsibility sharing systems
  • Promoting safety culture
  • Promoting best practice
  • Helping develop self-reliance
  • Ensuring compliance

While I mentioned that everyone was responsible for workplace health & safety, certain people in each company will have specific responsibilities for workplace safety.  Supervisors and managers do have more legal responsibilities because of their power to lead and direct the work and their workers.

On the other hand, for workplace’s with 20 or more regular workers, the Joint Health & Safety Committee (JHSC) members play an important role in the workplace safety. From carrying out routine workplace inspections, to creating hazard reports, to listening to the views and complaints from fellow workers in their workplace and much more.

Just a side note for companies with 20 to 49 workers the JHSC must have a minimum of 1 certified worker rep and 1 certified management rep. With 50+ regular workers the committee must have a minimum of 2 worker reps and 2 management reps, with 1 worker and 1 management rep being fully certified. It’s always best practice to have more than the minimum requirements due to attrition and other factors that can affect the committee.

When it comes to the responsibilities of management in their IRS and overall health & safety system, they carry the heaviest load. They are responsible to do their due diligence to make sure that they do everything reasonably possible to ensure the safety of their workers.

According to the CCOHS, this is how the employer establishes their due diligence.

[i]The conditions for establishing due diligence includes several criteria:

  • The employer must have in place written OH&S policies, practices, and procedures. These policies, etc. would demonstrate and document that the employer carried out workplace safety audits, identified hazardous practices and hazardous conditions and made necessary changes to correct these conditions, and provided employees with information to enable them to work safely.
  • The employer must provide the appropriate training and education to the employees so that they understand and carry out their work according to the established policies, practices, and procedures.
  • The employer must train the supervisors to ensure they are competent persons, as defined in legislation. Ensure that managers and supervisors:
    • Talk to new employees about safety during orientation training.
    • Meet regularly with staff to discuss health and safety matters.
    • Inspect areas of the workplace under their responsibility, and respond promptly to unsafe conditions and activities.
    • Pay attention to routine and non-routine activities, ensuring that employees understand the hazards and the preventative measures to be followed.
  • The employer must monitor the workplace and ensure that employees are following the policies, practices and procedures. Written documentation of progressive disciplining for breaches of safety rules is considered due diligence.
  • There are obviously many requirements for the employer but workers also have responsibilities. They have a duty to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of themselves and their coworkers - this includes following safe work practices and complying with regulations.
  • The employer should have an accident/incident investigation and reporting system in place. Employees should be encouraged to report "near misses" and these should be investigated also. Incorporating information from these investigations into revised, improved policies, practices and procedures will also establish the employer is practicing due diligence.
  • The employer should document, in writing, all of the above steps: this documentation will give the employer a history of how the company's occupational health and safety program has progressed over time. Second, it will provide up-to-date documentation that can be used as a defense to charges in case an accident occurs despite an employer's due diligence efforts.
  • Employers must also ensure that all people who are at the workplace are included, such as contractors, visitors, students/interns and volunteers.

All of the elements of a "due diligence program" must be in effect before any accident or injury occurs. If employers have questions about due diligence, they should seek legal advice for their jurisdiction to ensure that all appropriate due diligence requirements are in place.

Remember, due diligence is demonstrated by your actions before an event occurs, not after.

Another aspect that gets overlooked sometimes is that if your company brings in contracted workers or outsources any portion of the work, once they step into your facility or on your worksite, they become the responsibility of your company and its managers and supervisors.  Before allowing anyone to step into a work site there must be clear communication of what is required in regards to health & safety training and certification.

All workers, managers, supervisors, CEO’s and owners can do their part in their own workplace safety. Making sure to respect and help one another in the pursuit of a safe working environment. This doesn’t happen magically or overnight, it takes time and real effort on the part of everyone involved.