In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) is the provincial legislation that sets standards for workplace health and safety. The main purpose of the law is to prevent injury and death caused by workplace hazards.
For those who fail to comply with the OHSA and show disregard for compliance and for employers whose actions result in serious injuries or a worker's death, legal proceedings under the Act are often pursued. A person can be fined up to $25,000 for every offence under the Act and/or serve up to 12 months in jail. A corporation can be fined up to $500,000 for every offence.
Health and safety rights and responsibilities for owners, employers, supervisors and workers are stated in the OHSA. The Act is administered by the Ontario Ministry of Labour and its inspectors enforce the Act and the regulations under the OHSA, which contain specific requirements.
The OHSA is founded on the philosophy of the "internal responsibility system" or, as it is more simply called, "the IRS". The IRS means that health and safety is the responsibility of everyone in the workplace. In addition to meeting legal obligations, a workplace where there is a good IRS will have good communications between workers and employers, and will be one where health and safety issues are addressed and solved as soon as they're raised. Good communication usually leads to fewer injuries, lower costs and an all-round better and more productive workplace.
Workers, supervisors and employers have different duties and responsibilities set out in the OHSA, but those duties and responsibilities overlap and require these parties to talk to each other, cooperate and share information.
While employers and employees must talk and work together on a daily basis, the health and safety committee is the place where workplace health and safety issues are discussed and suggestions are made to the employer to look at or fix problems. The committee brings together management and workers on a regular basis. Both have an equal say in matters pertaining to the safety of workers.
In workplaces where the IRS works well, there will likely be fewer injuries and better observance of the law.
Local public health units will carry out inspections and investigate complaints in workplaces to enforce the Smoke-Free Ontario Act. The act prohibits smoking in enclosed workplaces in Ontario in order to protect workers from exposure to second hand smoke. The act repeals the Smoking in the Workplace Act, which was enforced by the Ministry of Labour.
For more information on the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, how it affects your workplace and who to contact about having it enforced, please visit the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion website at: www.mhp.gov.on.ca/english/health/smoke_free/legislation.asp.
Acts are the starting point for setting out regulations. While the Act sets out general duties (for example, see Part III: Duties of Employers and Other Persons,) the regulations set out more detailed requirements. Regulations are in place for various types of workplaces and workplace hazards and provide more specific requirements to make the work and work area safe. There are currently over 30 regulations in place under the OHSA.
Some of the types of workplaces with specific regulations include:
Hazards covered by regulations include:
Occupations covered by specific regulations include:
There are regulations that set out standards for specific types of equipment:
Within each regulation many specific requirements are laid out. One of the important ones that affects young workers is the minimum age requirement for work.
Workers in Canada are fortunate that there is a cross-Canada system of identifying chemical and biological hazards and provincial regulations to ensure workplaces have proper labelling, information for workers and training programs for all hazardous products workers may be exposed to. In Ontario, WHMIS has been in place since 1988. There is a lot of information available for employers and workers, so you should expect your employer to mention WHMIS to you during your orientation or job-specific training.
Not all products fall under WHMIS. Consumer products, like cleaning chemicals bought in the grocery or hardware store are not covered by WHMIS but have their own set of symbols for consumer protection. As well, pesticides and drugs are examples of WHMIS-exempt products that are covered by their own specific legislation.
WHMIS training is a good example of a worker's right to know about hazards they may be exposed to.
Do you need WHMIS training?
Ontario students receive basic WHMIS information in secondary school and
may also receive some WHMIS training on the job. When are you fully
trained so that you can tell a new employer that you've already been trained
in WHMIS? NEVER. Even if you know the basics about labels, MSDSs and
symbols, WHMIS training is only complete when you are trained by your employer in:
There are other Ontario laws, jurisdictions and standards that also contribute to overall workplace health and safety but are not administered by the Ministry of Labour, and do not fall under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Some of these are listed below.
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