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. Employers with 20 or more regularly employed workers shall implement a health and safety program.

Benefits of a Health and Safety Program

Improved Worker Productivity

Improved employee well-being and job satisfaction

Minimized potential costs from incidents

Reduced WCB premiums

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.

An employer is: • a person who is self-employed in an occupation • a person who employs or engages one or more workers, including workers from a temporary staffing agency • a person designated to represent an employer • a person responsible for overseeing workers’ health and safety within an organization
General Health & Safety Responsibilities
A supervisor is a person who is in charge of a work site or has authority over one or more workers.
General Health & Safety Responsibilities
A worker is any person engaged in an occupation. Volunteers who perform or supply services for no monetary compensation for an organization or employer are considered workers.
General Health & Safety Responsibilities
Other Work Site Parties
Includes: suppliers, service providers, owners, contracting employers, prime contractors, and temporary staffing agencies.
General Health & Safety Responsibilities
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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.

It is also important for all employees, particularly leaders, to learn about the basic legislative requirements of an health and safety program. CCSA’s OHS 101 for Leaders webinar series will consist of 11 videos – each with a different focus of OHSMS. These fun and informative videos not only detail the OHS laws that you need to know, but also discuss each Occupational Health and Safety Program element necessary for a strong and healthy OHSMS. Though the series focuses on information developed with supervisors and managers in mind, all workers can benefit and are encouraged to register!

Come back and watch these videos as often as you need and as you continue to develop your health and safety program!

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?

An employer with 1–4 workers who are regularly employed has no legal requirement for an HS representative or HSC.

An employer with 5–19 workers who are regularly employed must have an HS representative.

An employer with 20+ workers who are regularly employed must have an HSC.

The new OHS Act simplifies how the number of workers is calculated when deciding if an employer requires a health and safety committee or a representative. The calculation is based on the number of workers “regularly employed.” The new method more accurately depicts worker numbers in normal conditions. The new method also excludes volunteersand those not being financially compensated from the calculation. The requirements of 20 or more workers for a committee and five to 19 workers for a representative remain the same.

Want to know more? Review this Alberta Government bulletin.

What is the Foundation

Although the OHS Act requires an employer who regularly employs 20 or more workers to have an occupational health and safety program, employers have flexibility to choose a program that fits their work site/sites. This means while the OHS Act does not have required elements outlined, all occupational health and safety programs must satisfy this definition: a system to “promote continuous improvement in occupational health and safety.”By meeting this definition, it ensures employers are assessing the risks within their organization while also encouraging employers to involve workers in planning and developing their occupational health and safety program that will meet their organizational needs.

As a best practice, the following elements are foundational for an effective occupational health and safety program that will benefit any size of organization to promote, protect and involve workers in health and safety. 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 a policy that addresses the need to clearly document roles and integrating health and safety responsibilities for all work site parties into the 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.

Comprehensive Emergency Response Plan and Code-Specific Procedures lay the groundwork for your workers to be prepared for any emergency.  Specific contingency plans further prepare your operation should an emergency happen.

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. Inspection schedules will help you to track when inspections were completed to ensure managers, supervisors and workers participated in the inspections throughout the year. 

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.

Orientation policy and procedure outline and standardise the orientation process. The procedure should be supplemented with both a general orientation form as well as checklists specific to the job/site. Consider using a variety of resources to support and orient new workers, including infographics.

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.

Foundation 9 – At the heart of health and safety is continuous improvement. The Plan – Do – Check – Act  model can help organizations identify areas for improvement and make plans to continuously improve their health and safety program.

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! 

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