As an employer, you have a responsibility to ensure a safe work environment. Not only is this a moral obligation but also a legal one. Some things may be obvious like having a fire extinguisher in the kitchen or not having water running over electrical equipment. Others are less obvious like lowering the height of stacked heavy boxes or affixing rugs to reduce tripping hazards. But we find many employers don’t realize they may also need to have trained first aid attendants, first aid equipment, regular inspections and health & safety representatives and committees. Are you doing what you need to, to ensure every worker can go home?
In Canada, each province has their own Workplace Safety and Insurance Board under a variety of names. You will need to follow the rules, insurance and reporting requirements where your workers are physically located. We will talk generally in this article so please visit your local board as follows:
British Columbia - WorkSafeBC
Alberta - Workers’ Compensation Board of Alberta
Saskatchewan - Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board
Manitoba - Workers’ Compensation Board of Manitoba
New Brunswick - WorkSafeNB
Nova Scotia - Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia
Prince Edward Island - Workers’ Compensation Board of Prince Edward Island
Newfoundland and Labrador - WorkplaceNL
Northwest Territories - Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission of Northwest Territories and Nunavut
Federal government employees, merchant seamen and prisoners - Labour Program
You may also come across the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety which is a research group and they have good information on how to institute programs, posters and handouts and other materials to support a healthy and safe workplace wherever you are. Also, they have many free online courses that employees, employers and your health & safety representatives can take to meet training requirements.
Depending on where your employees are located and the type of industry you are in, there is likely required insurance to pay. Typically owners of the company are optional though you may want to consider this if you are drawing a salary, as it will include wage-loss coverage. Before your first employee starts, check your deadlines on reporting as it is usually within a short period of time after they start that you need to be registered. The cost of insurance will be a multiplier of your total payroll - this rate will be based on the job with riskier jobs having higher premiums. Once your company has been operating for 1+ years, most will have an experience type rating which will increase or lower your rate based on past claims. These insurance premiums protect you from lawsuits related to worker compensation for work-related injuries and illnesses. For your employees, it provides wage-loss protection and return-to-work support.
Safety Awareness and Training
Most boards have some requirements of safety posters or making the rules/act available to employees. Again check with your local board as some are strict on where these are placed while others allow more flexibility as long as employees can easily access them. There may also be additional training requirements, especially for young workers and risky jobs. This can include what the hazards are, what controls are in place (e.g. railings, ear plugs, fall protection, etc) and what to do if there is a safety incident.
Inspections and Representatives
Most workplaces require monthly inspections but more may be required depending on the assessed risk level and how often the workplace changes. These inspections will be done by your Health & Safety Representative or Committee. Depending on your assessed risk level and size of your workforce, you will need to either have a single employee representative or a committee composed of both employees and management. There will be training requirements, possibly budget needs and generally management needs to be responsive to suggestions they make.
In case there is a safety incident, providing first aid and reporting requirements are needed. Your first aid requirements will depend on number of employees, level of risk, distance to a hospital and others factors, which could include having:
Reporting and Investigations
Generally if an employee needs treatment, is transported for care or missed any work, then the incident needs to be reported. For minor issues, many have online forms you complete while for a major incident or death, you will call them ASAP. Secure the area and have your health & safety representative do an investigation - possibly with your local board’s team depending on what occured. In case of death or major injury, you may be wise to contact your lawyer to advise on next steps (of course after summoning an ambulance!).
You may also want to consider broader emergency preparedness training and planning based on the hazards in your community. On the Canadian West coast this would include earthquakes, in the prairies for flooding and blizzards while on the East coast it will be ice storms. Pandemics, fires, terrorism and other major events should also be planned for.
Are emergency exits clear and do employees know where the muster stations are?
Are employees prepared to survive for 72+ hours if stuck at work (or home)?
Do you have enough food, water and basic supplies?
Consider arranging for personal emergency kits - storing enough on site for all employees, providing personal kits at a subsidized rate or just coordinating a bulk purchase. Canadian Red Cross has a prepared kit that can be ordered. Your emergency plan will also include business continuity - how will your business continue: remotely / on-hold? Alerts to customers/suppliers? Proper shutdowns and security?
This may all seem a bit overwhelming given the numerous other things you need to be doing for your business. However, ensuring a safe place for work is good business practice. It will save you money and time, reduce reputational harm and foster goodwill in your employees and their families. Contact your local workplace safety and insurance board for more information (usually they are very helpful and most boards have an employer advisor office). Also, getting registered is part of the HR Start-up Package available through BrightGo Solutions.