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Part III: Duties of employers and other persons

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA or "the Act") includes legal duties for employers, constructors, supervisors, owners, suppliers, licensees, officers of a corporation and workers, among others. Part III of the OHSA specifies the general duties of these workplace parties.

General duties of employers

An employer who is covered by the OHSA, has a range of legal duties, including the duty to ensure that equipment, materials, and protective devices as prescribed, are provided, are maintained in good condition, that prescribed measures and procedures are carried out in the workplace [subsection 25(1)], and the obligation to:

  • instruct, inform and supervise workers to protect their health and safety [clause 25(2)(a)]
  • assist in a medical emergency by providing any information, including confidential business information, to a qualified medical practitioner and other prescribed persons for the purpose of diagnosis or treatment [clause 25(2)(b)]
  • appoint competent persons as supervisors [clause 25(2)(c)]. "Competent person" is a defined term under the OHSA as a person who:
    • is qualified because of knowledge, training and experience to organize the work and its performance,
    • is familiar with the Act and the regulations that apply to the work, and
    • has knowledge of any potential or actual danger to health or safety in the workplace
  • inform a worker, or a person in authority over a worker, about any hazard in the work and train that worker in the handling, storage, use, disposal and transport of any equipment, substances, tools, material, etc. [clause 25(2)(d)]
  • help joint health and safety committees (JHSCs) and health and safety representatives to carry out their functions [clause 25(2)(e)]
  • not employ or permit persons under the prescribed age for the employer's workplace, to be in or near the workplace [clauses 25(2)(f) and (g)]
  • take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker [clause 25(2)(h)]
  • post a copy of the OHSA in the workplace, as well as explanatory material prepared by the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development that outlines the rights, responsibilities and duties of workers in both English and in the majority language in the workplace [clause 25(2)(i)]
  • in workplaces in which more than five workers are regularly employed, prepare a written occupational health and safety policy, review that policy at least once a year and set up and maintain a program to implement it [clause 25(2)(j)]. See Appendix A of this guide for guidance on how to do this
  • post a copy of the occupational health and safety policy in the workplace, where workers will be most likely to see it [clause 25 (2)(k)]
  • provide the JHSC or the health and safety representative with the results of any occupational health and safety report that the employer has. If the report is in writing, the employer must also provide a copy of the parts of the report that relate to occupational health and safety [clause 25(2)(l)]
  • advise workers of the results of such a report. If the report is in writing, the employer must, on request, make available to workers copies of those portions that concern occupational health and safety [clause 25(2)(m)]
  • notify a Director of the MLITSD if a JHSC (or a health and safety representative) has identified potential structural inadequacies of a building, structure, or any part thereof, or any other part of a workplace, whether temporary or permanent, as a source of danger or hazard to workers [clause 25(2)(n)] (Note: this clause does not apply to an employer that owns the workplace [section 25(5)]

Also note that a related duty under section 25(1) of the OHSA requires employers to ensure that every part of the physical structure of the workplace, whether it is temporary or permanent, complies with load requirements prescribed in the applicable Building Code provisions, any prescribed standards or sound engineering practice where Building Code provisions or prescribed standards do not apply [clause 25(1)(e)].

Employers may appoint themselves as supervisors if they meet all three qualifications of a competent person. [subsection 25(3)].

Prescribed duties of employers

Please note that some employer duties make reference to prescribed requirements. For example, clause 25(1)( c) of the OHSA requires that employers carry out any measures and procedures that are prescribed for the workplace. "Prescribed" means specified in regulation. Where a regulation specifies measures and procedures for a specific type of workplace (e.g. an industrial establishment), the employer is required to carry out those measures and procedures.

Basic occupational health and safety awareness training for workers and supervisors

In addition to requirements for workplace-specific and hazard-specific training, employers are also required to ensure that their workers and supervisors complete, or have completed an occupational health and safety awareness training program that meets regulatory requirements in O. Reg.297/13, Health and Safety Awareness and Training.

The mandatory occupational health and safety awareness training requirement applies to all workplaces covered under the OHSA, such as construction projects, retail stores, hospitals and long-term care facilities, mines and mining plans, and farming operations. Note that awareness training does not replace other training and educational requirements under the OHSA.

A complete list of OHSA regulations can be viewed on the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development 's website.

Duties of employers with respect to footwear

Employers cannot require a worker to wear footwear with an elevated heel unless it is required for the worker to perform his or her work safely [subsection 25.1 (1)]. This does not apply to an employer of a worker who works as a performer in the entertainment and advertising industry [subsection 25.1 (2)]. For example, a restaurant manager cannot require hostesses to wear high heels as part of a dress code, whereby an actor may have to wear heels for a performance or part of a performance.

The OHSA defines "entertainment and advertising industry" [subsection 25.1 (3)] to mean the industry of producing live or broadcast performances, or producing visual, audio or audio-visual recordings of performances, in any medium or format.

"Performances" means performances of any kind, including theatre, dance, ice skating, comedy, musical productions, variety, circus, concerts, opera, modelling and voice-over. "Performer" has a corresponding meaning [(subsection 25.1(3)].

Note that section 25.1 does not affect any of the personal protective equipment requirements regarding footwear in the regulations made under the OHSA. Employers should consult the footwear provisions in the regulations made under the OHSA regarding requirements that apply to their workplace.

Duties of employers with respect to workplace violence and workplace harassment

Employers have specific duties regarding workplace violence and workplace harassment. Please see Part III.0.I of this guide for more information.

Duties of employers concerning toxic substances

In workplaces where there are toxic or hazardous substances, the employer has many specific duties. These are described in detail in Part IV — Toxic substances.

Duties of supervisors

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) sets out certain specific duties for workplace supervisors. A supervisor must:

  • ensure that a worker works in the manner and with the protective devices, measures and procedures required by the OHSA and the regulations [clause 27(1)(a)]
  • ensure that any equipment, protective device or clothing required by the employer is used or worn by the worker [clause 27(1)(b)]
  • advise a worker of any potential or actual health or safety dangers known by the supervisor [clause 27(2)(a)]
  • if prescribed, provide a worker with written instructions about the measures and procedures to be taken for the worker's protection [clause 27(2)(b)], and
  • take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers [clause 27(2)(c)].

Who is a supervisor?

A supervisor is a person appointed by the employer who has charge of a workplace or authority over a worker [subsection 1 (1)].

Workers are often asked to act as supervisors in the absence of persons hired in that capacity, particularly those identified by such terms as senior, charge, or lead hands. Despite the term used, it is very important to understand that if a worker or lead hand has been given "charge of a workplace or authority over a worker" this person has met the definition of a supervisor within the meaning of the OHSA and assumes the legal responsibilities of a supervisor under the Act.

Who is a competent person?

A competent person is defined in the OHSA as someone who is qualified because of knowledge, training and experience to organize the work and its performance, is familiar with this Act and the regulations that apply to the work, and has knowledge of any potential or actual danger to health or safety in the workplace.

The OHSA requires that employers appoint a competent person as a supervisor [clause 25(2)(c)].

Duties of constructors

Who is a constructor?

A constructor is defined in the OHSA as a person who undertakes a project for an owner and includes an owner who undertakes all or part of a project by himself or by more than one employer. The constructor is generally the person who has overall control of a project.

For more information, see the MLITSD publication on this website, entitled: Constructor Guideline: Health and Safety.

Under the OHSA, the constructor's duties include the following:

  • to ensure that the measures and procedures prescribed by this Act and the regulations are carried out on the project [clause 23(1)(a)]
  • to ensure that every employer and every worker performing work on the project complies with the OHSA and the regulations [clause 23(1)(b)], and
  • to ensure that the health and safety of workers on the project is protected [clause 23(1)(c)].

Where required in regulation, a constructor must give notice to the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development , containing prescribed information, before work begins on a project [subsection 23(2)]. The Regulation for Construction Projects (O. Reg. 213/91) made under the Act specifies the projects in respect of which notice shall be provided and the content of the notice.

Duties of owners

Who is an owner?

An owner is defined in section 1 of the OHSA as "a trustee, receiver, mortgagee in possession, tenant lessee, or occupier of any lands or premises used or to be used as a workplace, and any person who acts for or on behalf of an owner as an agent or delegate." This term includes individuals other than just the person with legal ownership of the premises or land that is being used as a workplace.

An owner may also be an employer under the Act. An owner of a workplace that is not a construction project, such as a factory, warehouse, car dealership, office) also has duties under the OHSA.

An owner must ensure that:

  • workplace facilities are provided and maintained as prescribed [clauses 29(1)(a)(i) and (ii)]
  • the workplace complies with the regulations [clause 29(1)(a)(iii)]
  • no workplace is constructed, developed, reconstructed, altered or added to except in compliance with the Act and regulations [clauses 29(1)(a)(iv)], and
  • where prescribed, provide a Director of the MLTSD with drawings, plans or specifications as prescribed [clause 29(1)(b)].

Where prescribed, an owner or employer is required to file with the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development , before any work is done, complete plans (i.e., drawings, layout, specifications and any alterations thereto) for the construction of or change to a workplace [clause 29(3)(a)]. This information will be reviewed by a ministry engineer to determine compliance with the OHSA and regulations. The ministry engineer may also require additional information on the plans from the employer or owner [subsection 29(4)].

If a regulation requires submission of the plans to the Ministry for review by a ministry engineer, a copy must be kept at the workplace and produced for inspection and examination by a ministry inspector upon request [clause 29(3)(b)].

Other requirements apply to owners of mines. For example, the owner of a mine must update drawings and plans every six months and include the prescribed details that are set out under section 22 of Mines and Mining Plants Regulation 854 [subsection 29(2)].

Duties of owners and constructors concerning designated substances on construction projects

Several duties regarding designated substances apply to all owners of construction projects and constructors.

Before beginning a project, the owner shall determine whether any designated substances are present on the site and shall prepare a list of these substances.

If work on a project is tendered, the person issuing the tenders (e.g. the owner, constructor) shall include the list of designated substances in the tendering information.

Before the owner can enter into a binding contract with a constructor to work on a site where there are designated substances, the owner must ensure that the constructor has a copy of the list of designated substances [subsection 30(3)]. The constructor must in turn ensure that any prospective contractor or subcontractor has a copy of the list before any binding contract for work on the project can be made [subsection 30(4)].

An owner, who fails to comply with the applicable aforementioned duties, is liable to a constructor and every contractor and subcontractor who suffers any loss or damages as a result of the presence of designated substances that were not on the list and that the owner ought reasonably to have known of. The constructor, who fails to comply with the applicable aforementioned duties, is similarly liable for any loss or damages suffered by a contractor or general contractor [subsection 30(5)].

Duties of suppliers

Every person who supplies workplace equipment of any kind under a rental, leasing or similar arrangement must ensure that:

  • the equipment complies with the OHSA and regulations,
  • is in good condition and,
  • in specified circumstances, is maintained in good condition [subsection 31(1)].

Duties of licensees

A licensed area is land on which the licensee is authorized to harvest or use forest resources [subsection 24(2)]. A licensee must ensure that, in the licensed area:

  • the measures and procedures specified in the Act and regulations are carried out
  • every employer logging for the licensee complies with the Act and regulations, and
  • the health and safety of workers employed by those employers is protected [subsection 24(1)].

Duties of corporate officers and directors

Every officer and director of a corporation must take all reasonable care to ensure that the corporation complies with the Act and regulations as well as with any orders and requirements of Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development inspectors, directors and the Minister [section 32].

Contraventions by architects and engineers

Architects and engineers are in contravention of the Act if they negligently or incompetently give advice or a certification required under the Act and, as a result, a worker is endangered [subsection 31(2)].

Duties of workers

Workers play a key role in health and safety at the workplace. Workers have various duties under the OHSA. Under the OHSA, a worker must:

  • work in compliance with the Act and regulations [clause 28(1)(a)]
  • use or wear any equipment, protective devices or clothing required by the employer [clause 28(1)(b)]
  • report to the employer or supervisor any known missing or defective equipment or protective device that may endanger the worker or another worker [clause 28(1)(c)]
  • report any hazard or contravention of the Act or regulations to the employer or supervisor [clause 28(1)(d)]
  • not remove or make ineffective any protective device required by the employer or by the regulations other than in circumstances specified below [clause 28(2)(a)]. The only circumstance in which a worker may remove a protective device is where an adequate temporary protective device is provided in its place. Once there is no longer a need to remove the required protective device or to make it ineffective, it must be replaced immediately.
  • not use or operate any equipment or work in a way that may endanger any worker [clause 28(2)(b)], and
  • not engage in any prank, contest, feat of strength, unnecessary running or rough and boisterous conduct [clause 28(2)(c)]. Racing powered hand trucks in a warehouse or seeing who can pick up the most boxes are examples of unlawful conduct.

Content last reviewed May 2019.

Updated: June 29, 2022
Published: March 14, 2017