Understanding your Health & Safety Representative’s responsibilities

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) is built upon the principle that workers and employers must work together to identify and resolve health and safety problems.
Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

No matter the size of a business, worker participation is an important element to any successful health and safety program.

In fact, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) is built upon the principle that workers and employers must work together to identify and resolve health and safety problems, and outlines specific ways to make this happen.

The legislation requires large organizations to have joint health and safety committees in place to conduct this role, and smaller businesses (those who regularly employ 6 – 19 employees) need a worker health and safety representative (HSR).

Key Responsibilities of an HSR
Health and safety representatives:
  • Conduct monthly workplace inspections
  • Assist in the identification of workplace hazards and recommendations to the employer
  • Be present to assist the worker for the investigation of work refusals
  • Provide feedback on the workplace violence risk assessment and WHMIS program
  • Obtain information about hazards
  • Obtain information about health and safety-related tests (prior to and during testing)
  • Accompany a Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD) inspector during a site visit (when requested)

The HSR may also inspect the workplace where a critical injury or fatality has occurred and report findings to the MLITSD. In addition, they may request information from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board about the company’s injury claims history.

Although HSRs play a critical role in a business' health and safety program, they are protected under Section 65(1)d of the OHSA from liability for accidents and from prosecution for their good faith actions as a representative. HSRs are also not legally responsible for:

  • Developing and implementing a health and safety program
  • Delivering training
  • Disciplining workers or policing/enforcing safety rules
  • Deciding what actions to take to resolve a work refusal
  • Recognizing every workplace hazard or dangerous situation
  • Ensuring that recommendations are implemented

These are the responsibilities of the owner/employer and respective supervisors; however, having the HSR assist with many of these activities will help support a healthy Internal Responsibility System.

Selecting your HSR

The HSR must be chosen by their fellow workers, not appointed. As a best practice, consider having staff nominate one of their peers and then hold a vote to finalize the decision. Once selected, the name of the health and safety representative (and contact information if needed) must be posted in the workplace.

There is no specified term for this role, but it is recommended that a time limit for new nominations and voting be chosen and documented, along with any other HSR procedures.

HSR Training

An HSR who understands their role and has the skills to do their job effectively can be a vital resource in keeping your workplace healthy and safe, as well as preventing financial loss due to preventable incidents and injuries.

Recognizing this, the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development is offering qualifying businesses a $175 rebate for HSR Basic Training eLearning courses taken between July 15, 2021 and March 31, 2024. This reimbursement covers the $25 course registration fee and provides $150 towards the HSR's training time.

Learn more about training offering and the reimbursement opportunity.

Additional Resources:

Have health and safety questions? Please contact Denise Lam, WSPS Account Manager, Small Business at [email protected].

The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.

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