Occupational Health & Safety

Occupational health and safety legislation is based upon the philosophy that everyone in the workplace has certain responsibilities for workplace health and safety. It is important that employers and employees each understand their respective rights and responsibilities for workplace health and safety, as well as those of owners, supervisors, prime contractors, and workers. These provisions apply in all workplaces, regardless of the size of the employer.

In British Columbia, occupational health and safety is addressed in Part 3 of the Workers Compensation Act (British Columbia).

In addition, the British Columbia Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (OHSR) contains certain legal requirements that must be met by all workplaces under the jurisdiction of WorkSafeBC. This includes most workplaces in B.C., except mines and federally chartered workplaces such as banks, interprovincial and international transportation, telephone systems, and radio, television, and cable services. Federal workers fall under the occupational health and safety provisions of Part II of the Canada Labour Code.

Many sections of the OHSR have associated guidelines and policies, which are used to help interpret and apply the OHSR, although they do not have the force of law.

If the requirements of Part 3 of the Workers Compensation Act or the OHSR are not followed, WorkSafeBC may pursue enforcement action, such as stop work orders and administrative penalties.

Duties under WCB Act (Part 3) and OH&S Regulation

Sections 115, 116, and 117 of the Workers Compensation Act (British Columbia) specify the general duties of employers, workers and supervisors. These sections work together with the other provisions of Part 3 of the Act and the OHSR, and provide the foundation for the health and safety responsibilities of all parties.

Section 115 of the  Workers Compensation Act states that every employer must, among other things, ensure the health and safety of “all workers working for that employer” and “any other workers present at a workplace at which that employer’s work is being carried out.”

This includes, among other things:

  • establishing occupational health and safety policies and programs in accordance with the regulations,
  • identifying and remedying workplace conditions that are hazardous to the health or safety of the employer’s workers,
  • ensuring that workers:
    • are made aware of all known or reasonably foreseeable health or safety hazards to which they are likely to be exposed by their work,
    • are made aware of their rights and duties under Part 3 of the Workers Compensation Act and the regulations, and that they comply with those duties
  • providing and maintaining in good condition protective equipment, devices and clothing as required by regulation and ensure that these are used by the employer’s workers,
  • providing workers with the information, instruction, training and supervision necessary to ensure their health and safety in carrying out their work and to ensure the health and safety of other workers at the workplace,
  • making a copy of the Workers Compensation Act and the regulations readily available for review by workers and, at each workplace and keep posted a notice advising where the copy is available for review,
  • consulting and cooperating with the joint committees and worker health and safety representatives for workplaces of the employer, and
  • cooperating with the Workers’ Compensation Board, its officers and any other person carrying out a duty under Part 3 of the Act or the regulations.

Section 116 of the Workers Compensation Act states that a worker must, among other things, “take reasonable care to protect the worker’s health and safety and the health and safety of other persons who may be affected by the worker’s acts or omissions at work.”  They must also comply with Part 3 of the Act, the regulations, and any applicable orders.

Under section 116(2), a worker’s duties include:

  • carrying out his or her work in accordance with established safe work procedures as required by Part 3 of the Act and the regulations,
  • using or wearing protective equipment, devices and clothing as required by the regulations,
  • not engaging in horseplay or similar conduct that may endanger the worker or any other person,
  • ensuring that the worker’s ability to work without risk to his or her health or safety, or to the health or safety of any other person, is not impaired by alcohol, drugs or other causes,
  • reporting to the supervisor or employer:
    • any contravention of this Part, the regulations or an applicable order of which the worker is aware, and
    • the absence of or defect in any protective equipment, device or clothing, or the existence of any other hazard, that the worker considers is likely to endanger the worker or any other person,
  • cooperating with the joint committee or worker health and safety representative for the workplace, and
  • cooperating with the Workers’ Compensation Board, its officers and any other person carrying out a duty under Part 3 of the Act or the regulations.

Under section 117 of the Workers Compensation Act, supervisors have specific responsibilities, in addition to their duties as workers under section 116. These include, among other things, providing training and orientation to new and young workers, instructing workers in safe work procedures, and correcting and investigating unsafe acts and conditions that they observe or that are reported to them.

In addition, with respect to alcohol and drugs, sections 4.19 and 4.20 of the OHSR state:

4.19 Physical or mental impairment

(1) A worker with a physical or mental impairment which may affect the worker’s ability to safely perform assigned work must inform his or her supervisor or employer of the impairment, and must not knowingly do work where the impairment may create an undue risk to the worker or anyone else.

(2) A worker must not be assigned to activities where a reported or observed impairment may create an undue risk to the worker or anyone else.

4.20 Impairment by alcohol, drug or other substance

(1) A person must not enter or remain at any workplace while the person’s ability to work is affected by alcohol, a drug or other substance so as to endanger the person or anyone else.

(2) The employer must not knowingly permit a person to remain at any workplace while the person’s ability to work is affected by alcohol, a drug or other substance so as to endanger the person or anyone else.

(3) A person must not remain at a workplace if the person’s behaviour is affected by alcohol, a drug or other substance so as to create an undue risk to workers, except where such a workplace has as one of its purposes the treatment or confinement of such persons.

Due Diligence

“Due diligence” is an important legal defense for a person charged under occupational health and safety legislation.  It is also a defence to charges under the Criminal Code arising from serious work related safety incidents. Due diligence arises from actions taken before an event occurs, not after.

To establish due diligence, an employer must demonstrate that it developed a “proper system to prevent the commission of an offence” (R. v. Sault Ste. Marie (1978), 2. S.C.R. 1299 at 1331).  An employer will need to be able to prove that it took all precautions, reasonable in the circumstances, to protect the health and safety of workers and others, and to prevent the occurrence of injuries. When assessing whether due diligence was exercised, a court may consider, among other things, whether the employer has:

  • knowledge of the OH&S regime applicable to it;
  • appointed appropriate and sufficient supervisory personnel;
  • reviewed the workplace for known and foreseeable health and safety risks and communicated those risks to workers;
  • developed and implemented a safety program or procedures;
  • adequately trained its workers;
  • implemented and maintained disciplinary guidelines; and
  • received regular reports on the operation of the health and safety program or procedures.

To exercise due diligence, an employer must, among other things, properly implement a safety program or procedures. It must document, and be able to demonstrate, that it assessed the workplace to identify hazardous practices and conditions, made necessary changes to correct such practices and conditions, and provided workers with information to enable them to work safely.  This should include an accident/incident investigation and reporting system. Employees should be encouraged to report “near misses” as well, and they too should be investigated.

Incorporating information learned from these investigations into revised, improved policies, practices and procedures will also assist in establishing that the employer has been exercising due diligence and is therefore not to blame if an incident nevertheless occurs.

With respect to safety-sensitive workers, a proper drug and alcohol policy is an important component to being able to establish that due diligence has been exercised to protect the health and safety of workers and others, and to prevent the occurrence of injuries arising from work.

Consultations

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