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Foreword

Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act ("OHSA" or "the Act") applies with some limitations and exceptions, to all farming operations that have paid workers.

This guide has been prepared to assist employers, workers, and others on farming operations who may have duties respecting health and safety representatives or joint health and safety committees under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. It should not be taken to be a statement of the law. It is intended to provide general answers to questions that may be asked. It is up to each person who has responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to determine what is necessary to comply with the Act.

Ministry inspectors will assess workplace situations against the relevant provisions in the Act but they do not enforce this Guide, although they may refer to it in determining whether the law has been complied with.

This guide does not replace the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations, and should not be used as or considered legal advice. Health and safety inspectors apply the law based on the facts in the workplace.

Introduction

Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act is built upon the principle that employees and employers must act together to ensure a healthy and safe workplace environment.

An important way in which this goal may be furthered is through the work of worker health and safety representatives and joint health and safety committees.

This guide describes the work of those representatives and committees and explains their roles and responsibilities in the workplace.

Where the word "should" is used, the action referred to is a recommended practice, not a legal requirement.

Which Farming Operations Require a Worker Health and Safety Representative or a Joint Health and Safety Committee?

When is a joint health and safety committee required on a farming operation?

A joint health and safety committee is required if there are 20 or more workers who are regularly employed and have duties related to one or more of the following operations:

  • Mushroom farming
  • Greenhouse farming
  • Dairy farming
  • Hog farming
  • Cattle farming
  • Poultry farming.

[Section 9(2) of the Act and sections 3(1) and 3(2) of Ontario Regulation 414/05]

When is a worker health and safety representative required on a farming operation?

Starting June 30, 2006, a worker health and safety representative is required on:

  • All farming operations with 6 to 19 regularly employed workers, regardless of the type of farm or commodity, and
  • Farming operations that have 20 or more regularly employed workers that are not required to have a joint health and safety committee.

[Section 8(1) of the Act]

Who is considered "regularly employed" for the purpose of determining whether a worker health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee is required at a workplace?

"Regularly employed" means the number of workers that are employed for a period that exceeds three months. This includes permanent full-time staff, permanent part-time staff, contract staff, and seasonal workers. It also includes managers and supervisors.

There may be situations where there is a high turnover of staff, and a number of different workers fill a particular position, with each person working in it for less than three months. If the term of the position exceeds three months, that position will be included for the purpose of determining whether a health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee is required, even though no single worker occupied that position for more than three months.

About Worker Health and Safety Representatives and Joint Health and Safety Committees

Worker Health and Safety Representatives

What is a worker health and safety representative?

Farming operations with more than five regularly employed workers and no joint health and safety committee must have a worker health and safety representative [section 8(1)]. Worker health and safety representatives are committed to improving health and safety conditions in the workplace. The representative, with input from other workers, identifies potential health and safety problems, and then brings them to the employer’s attention.

The health and safety representative is selected by workers at the workplace, and must be someone who does not exercise managerial functions footnote 1

See "Roles and Responsibilities" in this document for more information on the functions of a worker health and safety representative.

Joint Health and Safety Committees

What is a joint health and safety committee?

A joint health and safety committee is composed of people who represent the workers and the employer. Together, they are committed to improving health and safety conditions in the workplace. Joint health and safety committees identify potential health and safety problems and bring them to the employer’s attention. As well, members must be kept informed of health and safety developments in the workplace.

Why are joint health and safety committees necessary?

Joint health and safety committees are necessary to provide greater protection against workplace injury and illness, and greater protection means reduced human suffering, work-related accidents and work-related deaths. Joint health and safety committees often involve people from all levels of an operation. This co-operative involvement ensures that everything possible is done to eliminate health and safety hazards.

What is the joint health and safety committee’s role?

The joint health and safety committee is an advisory body that helps to stimulate awareness of safety issues, recognizes workplace risks and then deals with these risks. To achieve its goal, the joint health and safety committee holds meetings and conducts regular workplace inspections.

How large should a joint health and safety committee be?

In mushroom, greenhouse, dairy, cattle, hog and poultry farming operations where there are between 20 and 49 workers regularly employed, the joint health and safety committee must have a minimum of two members [section 9(6)(a)]. Where there are 50 or more workers regularly employed on these types of operations, the joint health and safety committee must have at least four members [section 9(6)(b)]. In both cases, at least half the members on a joint health and safety committee must represent workers [section 9(7)], with the balance representing management [section 9(9)].

Whenever possible, joint health and safety committee membership should represent the health and safety concerns of the entire workplace. For example, if a workplace has a greenhouse and a barn, both of these areas should be represented on the joint health and safety committee.

What if there is a dispute about the establishment or function of a joint health and safety committee?

The Ministry of Labour should be alerted to any dispute about the establishment, function or composition of a joint health and safety committee. Upon investigation, the Minister of Labour may issue an order to an employer to improve the function of a joint health and safety committee [sections 9(3), 9(5) and 9(39)].

Joint Health and Safety Committee Members

How are committee members selected?

At least half the joint health and safety committee members must be worker members: non-management workers at the workplace who are selected by other non-management workers [sections 9(7) and 9(8)].

The employer chooses members as well (employer members) [section 9(9)]. Employer members must be people who exercise managerial functions. For example, an employee who has the authority to discipline, hire, fire or recommend discipline, hiring or firing is considered a managerial employee. It is recommended that the employer select representatives by giving consideration to their knowledge of operations and to their duties and responsibilities as they relate to work procedures and safety.

When dealing with a specific issue, the joint health and safety committee may wish to invite persons with specialized knowledge or experience to attend as advisers or observers. It is recommended that these persons attend meetings only when their specialized knowledge or experience is necessary at the meeting, rather than attending every meeting.

Do committee members need special training or certification?

Unless otherwise prescribed in regulation, the Act requires that at least two members of the committee (one representing workers and one representing persons who exercise managerial functions) be certified. Until April 1, 2012 the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board was authorized to certify committee members under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 (WSIA). As of April 1, 2012, the Ministry of Labour’s Chief Prevention Officer has been authorized to certify members under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) [clause 7.6(1)(b)]. Any person who was certified under the WSIA before April 1, 2012 is deemed to be certified under the OHSA.

In order to be certified, a person must complete the Parts One and Two of mandatory training: Basic Certification and Workplace-Specific Hazard Training. Refresher training is required every three (3) years to maintain certification. A certified member may request a one-time exemption from Refresher Training if he or she is an active member (i.e., engaged as a member of the workplace JHSC within the past twelve months).

Part One, Basic Certification provides an overall knowledge of health and safety that applies to all workplaces.

Part Two, Workplace-Specific Hazard Training focuses on significant hazards in the workplace. Employers are required to select a minimum of six (6) hazards relevant to the workplace. It covers RACE methodology (recognize, assess, control, and evaluate) on how to assess those hazards and ways to control and/or eliminate them.

Part One and Part Two training is available through Chief Prevention Officer approved training providers.

Certified members are not required for committees at workplaces that regularly employ less than 20 workers, or at construction projects that regularly employ less than 50 workers [section 4 of O. Reg. 385/96], or for projects expected to last less than three months, see subsection 9(13).

Certified health and safety committee members play a key role on the committee. Specialized health and safety training for other members of the committee is available through health and safety associations. Although it is likely beneficial for all members of the committee to have health and safety training, it is not a requirement under the OHSA.

Visit the JHSC page for more information on certification training.

Is refresher training required in order to maintain certification?

To maintain one’s certification, a certified member must complete refresher training within three years of being certified, and every three years thereafter (with limited exceptions).

Refresher training includes a review of key concepts from Part One and Part Two training; relevant updates to legislation, standards, codes of practice, and occupational health and safety best practices; and, an opportunity for certified members to share and discuss best practices and challenges.

How long is a committee member’s term of office?

A term of at least one year (or at least one full growing season) is recommended. Where there is more than one worker member and one employer member, terms should be staggered to allow continuity. Vacancies should be filled as quickly as possible.

Do committee members get paid for their time?

Members are entitled to take time to attend joint health and safety committee meetings, inspections and investigations, as well as to accompany ministry inspectors investigating an accident, potential hazard or a work refusal [sections 9(34) and 54(5)]. Members will be paid at either their regular rate or, where applicable, their premium rate of pay (i.e., if they are entitled to premium pay whenever they work extra hours, and their duties as joint health and safety committee members take them beyond their usual hours of work) [section 9(35)].

Are committee members entitled to paid preparation time?

Each member will be paid for one hour of preparation time before every joint health and safety committee meeting. If it becomes apparent that one hour is not sufficient, the joint health and safety committee can decide that more paid preparation time is required [section 9(34)(a)].

Joint Health and Safety Committee Meetings

How often should the joint health and safety committee meet?

Joint health and safety committee members are required to meet at the workplace at least once every three months. More frequent meetings may be necessary, however, particularly in industries where the work involves hazardous substances or procedures [section 9(33)].

Who chairs the meeting?

Joint health and safety committee meetings must be co-chaired by two members. One of the co-chairs is chosen by the members who represent workers, the other by members who represent the employer [section 9(11)]. It is good practice to alternate the chairing of each meeting between the two chairs, although the joint health and safety committee may find other, more appropriate procedures.

How is an agenda prepared?

An agenda should be prepared by the co-chairs and distributed one week in advance of the meeting date. Members who wish to have items added to the agenda should give chairpersons ample notice.

How are committee members informed of upcoming meetings?

Meeting dates should be established on a pre-set schedule or at the conclusion of each joint health and safety committee meeting. This date will be recorded in the minutes of the meeting. A copy of the minutes should be distributed to members a few days after the meeting. The dates of upcoming meetings should also be recorded at the top of each agenda.

Is a quorum needed to hold a meeting?

Every meeting must have members present who represent the workers and the employer. Beyond that, the joint health and safety committee can determine its own rules for a quorum at meetings.

Must the minutes be recorded? What should the minutes include?

Minutes of each meeting must be recorded and available for review by a Ministry of Labour inspector [section 9(22)]. Minutes should contain details of all matters discussed, as well as a full description of problems and their resolution or any action deemed necessary. Minutes should identify members by title and not by name. (Members' names should be used only for attendance purposes.)

Minutes should be signed by the co-chairpersons and posted in the workplace within one week of the meeting.

Roles and Responsibilities

Worker Health and Safety Representatives

What responsibilities and authority does a health and safety representative have?

Generally speaking, a health and safety representative has the same responsibilities and powers as a joint health and safety committee member (which are described in the next section). These include the responsibility to inspect the workplace at least once a month [section 8(6)], and the power to:

  • identify workplace hazards [section 8(10)];
  • be consulted about workplace testing [section 8(11)];
  • make recommendations to the employer [section 8(10)]; and
  • investigate work refusals [section 43(4)] and serious accidents [section 8(14)].

Joint Health and Safety Committees

What are the committee’s principal functions?

The joint health and safety committee has four principal functions: to identify potential hazards, to evaluate these potential hazards, to recommend corrective action, and to follow up on implemented recommendations. To carry out its functions, the joint health and safety committee is required to hold meetings [section 9(33)] and carry out regular inspections of the workplace [sections 9(26), 9(27) and 9(28)].

Generally speaking, all joint health and safety committee members should be available to receive worker concerns, complaints and recommendations; to discuss problems and recommend solutions; and to provide input into existing and proposed health and safety programs.

How often must workplace inspections be carried out?

Regular inspections help to identify hazards and prevent accidents. The workplace must be inspected at least once a month, unless a different schedule of inspections is ordered by the Ministry of Labour [section 9(26)]. In cases where the workplace is too large or where parts are shut down on a seasonal basis, the joint health and safety committee should establish a monthly inspection schedule that ensures the entire workplace will be inspected at least once a year [section 9(27)].

Who carries out workplace inspections?

Joint health and safety committee members who represent workers must select someone in their group to inspect the workplace [section 9(23)]. Where a certified member is required on the joint health and safety committee, the person selected to inspect the workplace should, if possible, be a certified member [section 9(24)]. Where the joint health and safety committee has been established by an order of the Minister of Labour, under section 9(3.1), the joint health and safety committee members may designate a worker who is not on the joint health and safety committee to do the inspection. When a real or potential hazard is discovered, it must be reported to the joint health and safety committee [section 9(30)].

Do certified members have added responsibilities?

Because certified members receive special training in workplace health and safety, they are given added responsibilities. For example, certified employer and worker representatives can, under certain circumstances, act together and order the employer to stop work that is dangerous to a worker [section 45(4)].

Employer

What are the employer’s responsibilities regarding worker health and safety representatives and joint health and safety committees?

Employer responsibilities include informing the health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee of any work-related accidents involving injury, death or occupational illness [sections 51 and 52], and providing the health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee with the results of any reports relating to health and safety in the workplace [section 25(2)(l)].

The employer must provide a location for joint health and safety committee meetings [section 25(2)(e)]. The employer must also choose the managerial member or members of the joint health and safety committee. These members must exercise managerial functions, and, if possible, do so at the workplace where the joint health and safety committee is located [section 9(9)].

Must an employer act on recommendations made by a health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee?

The employer must provide a written response to recommendations within 21 days [sections 8(12) and 9(20)]. If the recommendations are accepted, a timetable for action must be outlined and provided to the health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee [sections 8(13) and 9(21)]. If an employer decides against acting on the recommendations, reasons must be given in writing [sections 8(13) and 9(21)].

Ministry of Labour Inspectors

What is the role of Ministry of Labour inspectors?

Ministry of Labour inspectors uphold and enforce the Occupational Health and Safety Act ("OHSA" or "the Act"). They inspect the workplace and investigate potentially hazardous situations, accidents and work refusals. An inspector may issue orders where there is a contravention of the Act, and may provide advice where there are disputes between workplace parties.

Sections 54, 55, 56, 56.1 and 62 of the OHSA lists powers Ministry of Labour inspectors have under the "the Act".

What contact will health and safety representatives and joint health and safety committee members have with the inspector?

A health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee member must be offered a chance to accompany the inspector on all inspections and investigations [section 54(3)]. When orders are issued by the inspector to an employer, the employer must give a copy of the orders to the representative or joint health and safety committee [section 57(10)]. Inspectors are entitled to review the minutes of joint health and safety committee meetings [section 9(22)], and are expected to do so. Inspectors may attend joint health and safety committee meetings when invited by members.

General Procedures

Worker Health and Safety Representatives and Joint Health and Safety Committee Members

How does the health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee deal with worker complaints?

A worker must report any hazard or contravention of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to the employer or supervisor [sections 28(1)(c) and 28(1)(d)]. If the matter is not resolved, a worker should then refer it to a health and safety representative or member of the joint health and safety committee.

When such matters are referred to a worker health and safety representative, he or she should:

  • ask a supervisor or person with designated responsibility in the area to take part in resolving the problem; and
  • notify the worker who reported the concern once a decision or recommendation has been made.

If a worker complaint cannot be resolved, the representative should inform the employer. If the employer is unable to resolve the issue, either the employer or the worker could contact a Ministry of Labour inspector, who will review the situation and render a decision.

When such matters are referred to a joint health and safety committee member, the member should:

  • ask a supervisor or person with designated responsibility in the area to take part in resolving the problem;
  • have this request noted at the next joint health and safety committee meeting and recorded in the minutes; and
  • notify the worker who reported the concern of a decision or recommendation made by the joint health and safety committee.

If a worker complaint cannot be resolved, either of the co-chairpersons should inform the employer. If the employer is unable to resolve the issue, either the employer or the worker could contact a Ministry of Labour inspector, who will review the situation and render a decision.

What should the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative do in the event of a work refusal?

The representative or a joint health and safety committee member who represents workers must be present during the investigation of a work refusal [section 43(4)]. This investigation is most often performed by the worker’s supervisor.

If the issue is not resolved, the employer, the worker or a joint health and safety committee member/representative must notify a Ministry of Labour inspector [section 43(6)]. The worker member/representative, the employer or employer member, and the worker must be consulted by the inspector who conducts the investigation [section 43(7)].

What should the committee or health and safety representative do in the event of an injury or death?

Worker members of the joint health and safety committee must designate one or more worker members to investigate any incident in which a person is killed or critically injured [section 9(31)]. The joint health and safety committee members [section 9(31)] or health and safety representative [section 8(14)] has the right to inspect the place where the incident occurred as well as any relevant machine, device or thing (subject to a general requirement not to disturb the scene of the injury or death).

Following the investigation, all findings must be reported to the Ministry of Labour and, if there is a joint health and safety committee, to the committee [sections 8(14) and 9(31)]. The representative [section 8(10)] or joint health and safety committee [section 9(18)(b)] have the power to evaluate the situation and recommend actions to prevent a similar incident in the future.

What sort of information can the health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee expect to obtain?

The representative or joint health and safety committee can expect to obtain information regarding hazardous materials, processes or equipment. As well, the employer must share any knowledge of health and safety practices, tests and standards in the industry [sections 8(11)(a), 8(11)(c), 9(18)(d), 9(18)(e), 11 and 25(2)(l)].

The employer must report to the health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee any lost-time injuries caused by accident, explosion or fire at the workplace, as well as any occupational illnesses of which he or she has knowledge [section 52].

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, at the request of the joint health and safety committee or representative, is required to send an annual summary of data relating to the number of fatalities, lost workday cases, workdays lost, non-fatal cases requiring medical care (but not involving lost workdays) and incidence of occupational illnesses [section 12].

What assistance can the health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee expect from the employer? footnote 2

The Act places a general duty on an employer to assist the functioning of the joint health and safety committee and the representative [section 25(2)(e)]. More specific responsibilities include:

  • upon the request of the representative [section 8(11)(c)(i)] or joint health and safety committee [section 9(18)(d)(i)], provide information regarding the identification of potential or existing hazards involving materials, processes or equipment;
  • upon request, inform the representative [section 8(11)(c)] or joint health and safety committee [section 9(18)(d)] of changes in work procedures, of the introduction of new machinery or processes, of the use of new chemicals and other materials and of the availability of new safety equipment;
  • provide the representative or joint health and safety committee with a copy of all orders or reports issued to the employer by an inspector of the Ministry of Labour [section 57(10)];
  • provide a representative or worker member of the joint health and safety committee with the opportunity to accompany a Ministry of Labour inspector on the physical inspection of the workplace [section 54(3)]; and
  • afford a worker member of the joint health and safety committee [section 9(26)] or a representative [section 8(6)] the right to inspect the physical condition of the workplace at least once a month, and provide required information and assistance [sections 9(29) and 8(9)].

It is an offence for an employer to knowingly hinder or interfere with, or to give false information to, the joint health and safety committee or to a committee member or a health and safety representative who is in the process of performing his or her duties under the Act.

What assistance can the health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee expect from workers?

Workers are expected to provide information and assistance as may be required by a representative or joint health and safety committee member conducting an inspection or investigation. A worker must not interfere or knowingly provide a joint health and safety committee member or representative with false information.

What are the health and safety representative’s and joint health and safety committee’s responsibilities regarding confidential information?

Representatives and joint health and safety committee members are responsible for maintaining rules of confidentiality, except where disclosure of information is specifically required by the Act or by another law [section 63(1)].

In this regard, joint health and safety committee members or representatives must not disclose any secret production process or trade information; any information about any workplace tests or inquiries conducted under the Act or regulations; or the name of any person from whom information is received. Information obtained from medical examinations and tests may be disclosed only in a manner that does not identify anyone [section 63(1)(f)].


Footnotes

  • footnote[1] Back to paragraph For example, an employee who has the authority to discipline, hire, fire or recommend discipline, hiring or firing is considered a managerial employee. [section 8(5)]. The representative does not require special training or certification and is entitled to take paid time to attend inspections and investigations [section 8(15)].
  • footnote[2] Back to paragraph When acting as the representative of the employer, a supervisor assumes legal responsibilities of the employer under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Updated: July 05, 2021
Published: August 10, 2017