Start my Program Development
Whether your organization is small or large there are some basic health and safety program elements that are foundational – therefore are great place to start the journey!
What is a Health and Safety Program?
A safe and healthy community doesn’t just happen. Rather, it’s something that is planned, communicated, monitored and continuously improved.
A health and safety program is a carefully planned approach to health and safety that involves all community partners working together to identify and solve health and safety concerns. It is more than just a management statement or a company safety manual. It is an integrated system of policies, processes, procedures and other measures focused on ongoing improvement in occupational health and safety.
A health and safety program is a good tool for all employers to have, to follow and to continuously improve. IT IS A MUST-HAVE FOR EMPLOYERS WITH 20 OR MORE WORKERS.
Benefits of a Health and Safety Program
In today’s increasingly competitive business climate, any factor that affects a business’s bottom line can be the difference between being a success and being “out of business”.
Successful businesses recognize that workplace incidents and their related costs can have a significant impact on their bottom line.
Successful businesses would also be aware that any significant, unforeseen event that draws public notice could negatively impact their profile, image and reputation.
It's the Law!
Alberta has laws in place to make sure all work site parties take occupational health and safety seriously.
Part 1 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act defines the roles and responsibilities of each work site party. A health and safety program makes all work site parties aware of their roles and responsibilities.
It is possible to fall under more than one category of work site parties. Know what’s expected of you in your role(s). And know what you have the right to expect from others.
Internal Responsibility System
The Internal Responsibility System (IRS) is the founding principle for Health and Safety programs across Canada, and is the model for the Alberta Health and Safety Act. The concept behind the IRS is that every work site party (worker, supervisor, manager, senior executive, etc.) is responsible for health and safety and has specific roles to ensure a safe and healthy workplace. Workers at the work site who see unsafe acts or conditions have an obligation to report the situation to the employer or the supervisor. Employers and supervisors are, in turn, required to advise of all known or reasonably foreseeable hazards in the work they do.
Want to learn more about the Internal Responsibility System? Watch this Alberta Government webinar
Three Rights of Workers
Right to Know
Workers have the right to know about the potential hazards and have access to basic health and safety information at the work site:
- all employers must inform workers about potential hazards.
- all work site parties must ensure information on health and safety hazards is available onsite.
Employers are responsible for making their workers aware of the workers’ rights and duties under the OHS legislation. Employers must also ensure that workers are made aware of any health and safety hazards at the work site as well as the controls used to eliminate or minimize these hazards (OHS Act s.2(d)(i)). This awareness allows workers to actively participate in preventing and resolving OHS issues at the work site.
Access to current occupational health and safety legislation at work is part of a worker’s right to know. It’s the employer’s responsibility to ensure access.
Right to Participate
Workers have the right to meaningful participation in health and safety activities pertaining to their worksite including the ability to express health and safety concerns (OHS Act s. 2(d))ii)):
- be involved in health and safety discussions.
- participate in Health and Safety Committees.
The right to participate ensures workers have an opportunity to participate in decisions that affect their health and safety at work. For most of Alberta’s workers, this participation is through their HSC or HS Representative. However, other workers may not have a HSC or HS Representative, but they still have options for how they can participate.
Workers must be able to express health and safety concerns without fear of punishment.
Right to Refuse Unsafe Work
Under section 2(d)(iii) as well as sections 31 to 34 of the OHS Act , workers have the right to refuse any work they believe on reasonable grounds that there is a danger at the work site or that the work constitutes a danger to the worker’s health and safety or to the health and safety of another worker or another person.
Since workers must do everything they reasonably can to protect the health, safety and welfare of themselves and others at the work site, workers may have an obligation to refuse dangerous work.
Health and Safety Committee and/or Representative
A key partner in the Internal Responsibility System and a key opportunity for workers to know about and participate in the health and safety program is the Health and Safety Committee or Representative. A Health and Safety Committee Policy or a Health and Safety Representative Policy outlines their important responsibilities and duties. While the HSC Terms of Reference defines how the HSC will function and helps keep the HSC on track.
In general, when do you need a committee versus a representative?
If the work is expected to last less than 90 days:
There is no legal requirement for an HS representative or HSC.
An employer with 1–4 workers has no legal requirement for an HS representative or HSC.
An employer with 5–19 workers must have an HS representative.
An employer with 20+ workers must have an HSC.
What is the Foundation
The following foundational elements are just the start of a health and safety program. While employers with less than 20 employees are not legally required to have all of the following foundational elements, at a minimum it is important for affected employers to consider how you will involve your workers in health and safety including the hazard assessment and control process and developing the emergency response plans.
Throughout each of the foundation elements you will be provided with the corresponding resources which can be used to develop your health and safety program. You are also challenged to consider how you will involve workers and encourage worker participation within each element as you develop your program.
To get started, you must have a well-developed Occupational Health and Safety Policy. This policy sets the direction for your health and safety program.
You also need to create a robust framework which includes clearly documenting the roles and integrating health and safety responsibilities for all work site parties into job descriptions.
The central component of health and safety program is identification and controls of all work site hazards. A well-developed hazard assessment process includes a hazard reporting policy and a hazard assessment and control policy. Formal Hazard Assessments must also be created for all roles previously identified and documented in step 1.
Inspections proactively identify hazards. Inspection forms/checklists outline the conditions, standards and behaviours to check and/or observe. Work Site Inspection policy will outline this and more. While the Work Site Inspection Report summarizes the inspection findings and can be used to communicate the findings to all workers.
Employers are in charge of the work site that includes all work site parties. Other Work Site Parties policy and procedure outlines the roles and responsibilities for all parties. Like employees, other work site parties must receive a health and safety orientation prior to conducting work. The other work site parties orientation policy together with appropriate orientation checklists and acknowledgment appropriately confirms the employer’s commitment to health and safety and ensures other parties are aware of their important role in the health and safety program.
To prevent incidents from recurring, investigations focused on finding root cause rather than laying blame are needed. Investigation Policy and Procedure outline how and when incident reporting and investigations must occur. To support consistent report there must also be a incident record. While the incident investigation form assists the investigation team to conduct consistent investigations.
Where Do I Go from Here?
As mentioned, the foundational elements discussed above are just the start, health and safety is not a one and done activity. Once you have established your health and safety program consider how you will continue to improve it by moving on to “Assessing my Program.”
When going through the health and safety program development process, please keep in mind:
- don’t forget to communicate, communicate, communicate!
- involve workers in the development of your program, at a minimum ensure participation of the HSC and/or HSR
- celebrate the successes!