Health and safety for small businesses
Learn about your responsibilities as a small business employer and how to get help keeping your workplace safe.
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Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), small business employers have many of the same duties as any other employer, including the following:
- to do everything they reasonably can to protect their workers in each situation
- to inform, instruct and supervise workers to protect their health and safety
- to make sure that every worker and supervisor takes the required training, including basic occupational health and safety awareness training, and keep records of that training
Put up health and safety posters
To make sure workers know their rights under the OHSA, workplaces in Ontario must put up posters and other information.
If your workplace is covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act, you must put up a:
- Health & Safety at Work: Prevention Starts Here poster
- copy of the Occupational Health and Safety Act
This applies, even if you have fewer than 6 workers, but some requirements depend on the size of the workplace.
Workplaces with 6 or more workers
If you regularly employ 6 or more workers, you must also put up:
- a health and safety policy
- a workplace violence prevention policy
- a workplace harassment prevention policy
Most workplaces with 6 to 19 workers must have a health and safety representative, and should post their name.
Workplaces with 20 or more workers
Almost all workplaces that regularly employ 20 or more workers are required to have a joint health and safety committee, and to put up the names and work locations of the committee members.
Other posters to put up
You may be required to put up other posters about employment standards and workplace injuries. Find out what other posters you may have to put up by law.
Write and maintain workplace policies
Step 1: Develop the policies
If you regularly employ 6 or more workers you must write and post health and safety, violence and harassment policies, and make them available to your workers.
If you regularly employ 5 or less workers you do not have to put the policies in writing, unless you're ordered to by a Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development inspector.
Learn how to prepare a:
- health and safety policy
- workplace violence prevention policy
- workplace harassment prevention policy
Step 2: Create a program to implement the policies
Create and maintain a program to implement the policies.
Step 3: Review the policies annually
These policies are your commitment to keeping your workers safe in the workplace and you must review them at least once a year.
Offer mandatory health and safety awareness training
From the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (free)
If you want to develop your own training
Use the training program assessments for workers or supervisors to determine if your programs meet the legal requirements under Ontario Regulation 297/13 - Occupational Health and Safety Awareness and Training.
Keep records of the training
By law, you must:
- keep a record of training completed by your workers and supervisors (you can use our free record keeping template)
- provide them with a proof of completion (for example, a signed statement or a certificate of completion)
Teach workers how to safely do their jobs
To teach your workers how to do their jobs safely, you must provide:
- information and training about:
- safe work policies
- hazards in the workplace
- measures and procedures specific to your workplace and the worker's duties
This is especially important for new and young workers, who are more likely to be injured during their first month on the job than at any other time.
Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)
WHMIS is a Canada-wide system of laws put in place to:
- help reduce workplace injuries and illnesses
- help employers and workers learn about hazardous products or chemicals used at work
Under WHMIS, information on hazardous products must be delivered in 3 ways:
- worker education programs
- labels on the containers of hazardous products with detailed hazard and precautionary information
- safety data sheets
Learn more about WHMIS.
Select a health and safety representative or create a joint health and safety committee
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, workers and employers must work together to keep the workplace healthy and safe.
One way to do this is by working with your workplace health and safety representative, or with your joint health and safety committee. They are responsible for identifying potential health and safety problems and bringing them to your (the employer's) attention. They can also make recommendations on improving health and safety in workplace.
If you employ 6 to 19 workers
If you regularly employ 6 to 19 workers, you typically must have a worker health and safety representative. The representative is selected by:
- the union, if the workplace is unionized
- workers at the workplace who are not managers or supervisors
Training is optional for health and safety representatives, but training programs are available to help them understand their duties.
Eligible small businesses can be reimbursed for health and safety representative training through Ontario’s Small Business Health and Safety Training Program.
If you employ 20 or more workers
Almost all workplaces that have 20 or more regularly employed workers must have a joint health and safety committee (JHSC). This committee includes worker and employer representatives.
At least one worker representative and one management representative on the JHSC must be certified. To do that they must take a 2-part training program, approved by the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development's Chief Prevention Officer.
Use our health and safety checklist
To make sure you are following the Occupational Health and Safety Act, you can use our health and safety checklist. Consider completing it with your health and safety representative or joint health and committee members.
What to expect during an inspection
Every day Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development inspectors visit workplaces for occupational health and safety inspections and investigations. Learn more about what you can expect.
Report a workplace incident
By law, you must notify certain people, within specific timeframes, if there is an incident in your workplace such as a death, injury or occupational illness.
Your other duties
As an employer you have other responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). For example, you must make sure the equipment, materials and protective devices you provide are in good condition.
Depending on your type of business you may also need to:
- make sure your workers meet sector-specific minimum age requirements
- comply with the requirements in specific regulations, such as the regulations for construction, industrial, mining or health care sectors
Read the guide to the OHSA for more information about the duties of employers, supervisors, workers and others.
Get help making your workplace safe
Many of Ontario's health and safety organizations offer sector specific advice, services and training. Some services are free. Others have a fee. Contact:
- Infrastructure Health & Safety Association for the construction, electrical and utilities, aggregates, natural gas, ready-mix concrete and transportation sectors
- Public Services Health & Safety Association for hospitals, nursing and retirement homes, residential and community care, universities and colleges, school boards, libraries and museums, municipalities, provincial government and agencies, police, fire and paramedics and First Nations
- Workplace Safety North for the forestry, mining, smelters, refineries, paper, printing and converting sectors
- Workplace Safety & Prevention Services for the agriculture, manufacturing, and service sectors
- Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) for all sectors
Definition of a supervisor
A supervisor is anyone who has charge of a workplace or authority over a worker, whether or not they have the word "supervisor" in their job title.
For example, depending on their work responsibilities someone can be a supervisor under the Occupational Health and Safety Act if they are a:
- business owner
- keys holder
- senior chef
As the employer, you are responsible for making sure a supervisor is qualified and knowledgeable about health and safety. Read the Guide to the Occupational Health and Safety Act to learn more about the requirements and duties of a supervisor under the law.