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How to create an occupational health and safety policy manual

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Fundamental legal obligation

With heightened scrutiny over workplaces and increased penalties for workplace incidents causing injuries—or worse, death—employers must ensure they understand their obligations under occupational health and safety legislation. One of the fundamental obligations is to prepare workplace health and safety policies and procedures and to train employees and supervisors on them. But where to start?

What do the health and safety law and regulations say?

All jurisdictions in Canada have OHS legislation and regulations. The laws are usually called the Occupational Health and Safety Act, in Manitoba, the Workplace Safety and Health Act, in British Columbia the Workers’ Compensation Act, or something similar. The rules may differ slightly across the country but the principles are the same: all workplace parties have responsibilities with respect to maintaining a healthy and safe work environment. Employers’ and supervisors’ duties are especially important.

Employers generally must ensure the workplace and work equipment are safe and the health and safety policies and procedures are being followed. Supervisors must ensure workers can and are doing their jobs safely and in accordance with the health and safety policies and procedures, and that workers are aware of dangers. Where the law demands, a joint health and safety committee must be in place to further ensure policies are in place and being followed.

Other laws are also relevant to workplace health and safety, including workers’ compensation legislation, human rights law and the Criminal Code of Canada.

What should be included in a health and safety policy manual?

Any policy that affects worker health and safety may be suitable to include in a company health and safety policy manual, but at a minimum, employers should include policies and procedures on these topics:

  • Health and safety policy statement
  • Accident and injury reporting
  • Accident investigations
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Joint health and safety committees
  • Workplace violence and harassment
  • Workplace Hazardous Material Information System (WHMIS)
  • Safety orientation and training
  • Workplace safety inspections
  • First aid arrangements
  • Equipment lockout
  • Emergency plans
  • Driver licensing program for in-plant vehicles, if appropriate
  • Health and safety monitoring and reporting

There may be many more issues you’ll wish to cover in your policy manual, such as:

  • Ergonomics
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Working alone
  • Cellphone use
  • Civil emergencies and business interruptions
  • Smoking
  • Scented products and environmental sensitivities
  • Return-to-work programs
  • Pandemic planning
  • Working from home

You can find sample policies and procedures on all of these topics, specific to your province, in Human Resources PolicyPro®, published by First Reference.

Before you begin building or reviewing your OHS policy manual

An employer developing a health and safety policy must understand its importance. It must be reviewed annually and updated where necessary. Failure to act in accordance with the employer’s own policy can expose the employer to significant and legal financial risk.

Training employees and supervisors in health and safety matters is a never-ending responsibility. Consider appointing one fully trained person to be in charge of health and safety matters and assign responsibility to that person to act on behalf of senior management in this serious matter.

Procedures should be developed to train new hires and for “refresher” training when new equipment or hazardous materials are introduced in the workplace. Workers should understand their rights and obligations under the law and regulations. Pay particular attention to casual, student or summer employees, who sometimes fall between the cracks on matters related to safety training. Some of the worst industrial accidents have involved young employees who have never worked in an industrial setting before and are unaware of the possible consequences of ignoring the rules.

Given the potential penalties for a breach of the law or regulations and because OHS law places a duty on employers to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers, an employer must be able to demonstrate the serious efforts made to comply with the law. Accordingly, health and safety should be a regular agenda item for operational and/or staff meetings. In safety-sensitive industries, senior officers, executives and directors should be regularly briefed regarding these items and any queries or action items arising from the meetings should be carefully noted and acted upon.

Consider creating a “health and safety budget” to implement policy. This budget can cover matters such as training, first aid equipment, audit reviews or repairs required to make the workplace safer.

Criminal negligence charges could be laid under the Criminal Code if an individual or organization does not heed the legal duty to prevent bodily harm to an individual performing work or tasks. If found guilty, penalties could range from a significant fine to a prison sentence up to and including life imprisonment.

Conclusion: employees’ health, employers’ liability

While all workplace parties must work together to reduce the risk of occupational injury or disease, employers have the ultimate responsibility for creating a safe and healthy work environment. Massive fines and even jail sentences have become a reality for organizations that neglect this responsibility.

I’ve outlined the basic factors to consider when creating a workplace health and safety manual, but every workplace is different and will require different policy considerations.

You can find detailed health and safety policy samples that cover the legal requirements for your province in Human Resources PolicyPro®, published by First Reference and reviewed by top employment lawyers. Always up to date, the PolicyPro software offers health and safety policy examples that you can use as the basis to easily build your own custom policy manual. Try it free for 30 days!

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Adam Gorley

Adam Gorley is a copywriter, editor and researcher at First Reference. He contributes regularly to First Reference Talks, Inside Internal Controls and other First Reference publications. He writes about general HR issues, accessibility, privacy, technology in the workplace, accommodation, violence and harassment, internal controls and more. Read more
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