Prevent workplace injuries through compliant health & safety measures

July 5th is National Injury Prevention Day in Canada, a day to promote awareness of the importance of preventing injuries through education and advocacy. While the day refers to injuries in general (which have an indirect impact on workplaces), in this post, we focus primarily on workplace injuries and the legislative requirements in place to help prevent them.

Statistics of injuries in Canada and the Canadian workplace

Parachute Canada outlines the following injury statistics (not specific to workplaces):

  • Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries, hospitalizations, emergency department visits, and disabilities
  • Unintentional injury is the leading cause of death for Canadians 34 and under
  • An average of 48 Canadians die and 634 are hospitalized every day due to injuries

WorkSafe BC reported the following statistics for 2020:

  • 128,274 injury reports
  • 151 work-related death claims
  • 5,420 occupational disease claims
  • 10,071 back strain and 18,131 other strain claims
  • 45,261 short term disability claims
  • 3.5 million lost workdays

Of the above, 59% of injured workers were male, 41% were female, their average age being 42.

Canada-wide in 2020, the National Safety Council (NSC) reported:

  • 4,113 preventable work deaths – a 10% decrease from 2019 (likely due to a decrease in hours associated with COVID-19)
  • 650 homicides and suicides in the workplace
  • 4,000,000 medically consulted injuries, costing an estimated $643.7 billion
  • The most dangerous industries included construction (most fatal injuries); agriculture, forestry, fishing & hunting (highest death rate per 100,000 workers); and education and health services (most non-fatal injuries and illnesses resulting in time off from work)

Finally, as reported by Canadian Occupational Safety, the most common workplace injuries are:

  • Slips, trips, and falls
  • Repetitive stress and overexertion
  • Being struck by or caught in moving machinery
  • Vehicle-related accidents
  • Fire and explosion-related injuries

Overexertion, bodily reaction, and slips, trips and falls account for 84% of non-fatal injuries.

Workplace requirements for occupational health and safety measures

An integral factor associated in the prevention of workplace injuries is having compliant and accountable measures in place, including health and safety policies/programs, and representatives or committees.

For organizations which are provincially regulated in BC, WorkSafe BC requires the following:

  • If your workplace has 20 or more workers, you must have a joint health and safety committee
  • If your workplace has 10 or more but less than 20 workers, you must have a health and safety representative

For workplaces which are federally regulated in Canada, the Canada Labour Code requires the following:

  • If your workplace has 20 or more workers, you must have a health and safety committee
  • If your workplace has less than 20 workers, you must have a health and safety representative

Health and safety representatives and/or committees are responsible for:

  • Identifying unhealthy or unsafe situations and conditions
  • Navigating and addressing complaints related to worker health and safety
  • Consulting with both employees and employer
  • Making recommendations for improving occupational health and safety and the work environment, including changes to equipment, machinery, work processes, etc.
  • Recommending educational and training programs related to health and safety
  • Advising employers on required programs and policies
  • Ensuring accident and near accident investigations, as well as regular inspections are carried out
  • Participating in inspections and investigations

For provincially regulated organizations which have/need an Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) committee, all members must receive 8 hours of approved training. Health and safety representatives must receive 4 hours. Reps and committee members in federally regulated organizations must also receive training; however, the exact amount is not specified.

Steps to putting in place a health & safety committee or representative

Despite legislative requirements, many organizations aren’t compliant with having representatives and/or committees. Although many of these organizations aren’t considered ‘safety-sensitive,’ one of the things COVID-19 taught us regarding the workplace, is that health and safety matters aren’t restricted to dangerous environments/roles. Furthermore, with strains and sprains (including carpal tunnel syndrome) being one of the most common occupational injuries, and workplaces increasingly going to a remote or hybrid-set up, ergonomics are important to consider – along with other forms of potential workplace hazards.

In order to frame the overall process, a good place to start is to create a program document which the OH&S committee (or representative) will finalize, once formed/selected. Referring to the templates provided by WorkSafe BC, the program document ideally includes the following components:  

  • Overview of the principles of the program based on legislative requirements (i.e., what employer and employee responsibilities are; how accidents, near accidents and injuries are reported; emergency and fire safety; and first aid details)
  • Requirements of the OH&S committee and steps you’ll take to create it (e.g., confidential nomination or vote, and/or leadership designation)
  • When and how the committee will meet
  • Terms of reference and rules of procedure which outline composition, purpose, function/duties, roles of co-chairs and members, agenda & meeting minutes, term, and education/training
  • Reference to training options and associated annual leave
  • Tools and resources (i.e., templates for agenda, minutes, inspection checklist, recommendations)  

In the case of health and safety representatives, while you don’t need comprehensive terms of reference, it’s a good idea to have a profile/document indicating their roles and responsibilities. While reps largely carry out the same duties as committees, representatives must not be managers or carry out managerial functions and must either be selected by secret ballot and/or as established by the union, if in a unionized workplace.

Jouta’s HR Consultants can help you develop the health and safety policies and programs required for your organization.