What Employers Need to Know About Joint Health and Safety Committees
A joint health and safety committee (JHSC) is comprised of both worker and employer representatives, who work collaboratively to improve health and safety conditions across the work environment. Typical JHSC tasks include identifying health and safety issues (occuring, alleged and potential), inspecting the workplace, raising awareness of health and safety, facilitating training, and more.
When is a JHSC Mandatory?
In Ontario, a JHSC is required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) in the following cases:
- The workplace regularly employs 20 or more workers. (Note: workplaces with 6-19 workers are required to have one worker-designated health and safety representative, but not a JHSC. However, if designated substance regulations apply, or if a Director’s order has been issued under Section 33 of the OHSA, then a JHSC is required regardless of the number of workers.)
- The workplace is a construction project at which 20 or more workers are regularly employed, and who are expected to work for at least three months.
- The Minister of Labour has ordered the employer to create a JHSC.
- The employer is a farming operator that regularly employs 20 or more workers who are engaged in activities related to any of the following: greenhouse duties, or the farming of poultry, cattle, hogs, dairy or mushrooms.
Key Employer JHSC Responsibilities
Employers that are required to establish a JHSC must commit to collaborating with workers, and playing an active and appropriate role in identifying, mitigating and/or eliminating workplace health and safety hazards. The Government of Ontario points out seven key ways that employers must demonstrate this commitment:
- Supporting the creation and maintenance of a JHSC where one is required under the OHSA.
- Choosing committee members to represent the employer on the JHSC. All such members must exercise managerial functions.
- Supporting and cooperating with all JHSC members to carry out designated functions.
- Providing the JHSC with any information related to real or potential hazards in the work environment, along with information regarding standards and practices implemented in similar industries.
- Promptly providing the committee with a copy of all reports or orders issued by the Ministry of Labor inspector, which arises from any work-related incident involving occupational illness, injury or death.
- Working closely and consulting with all JHSC members to develop and upgrade health and safety programs and policies, including those that involve training.
- Authorizing a JHSC member who represents workers the right to accompany a Ministry of Labour inspector during a workplace inspection.
Penalties for Breaching Violations
It is an offense for any employer, or any individual(s) acting on the employer’s behalf, to violate JHSC-related obligations. This includes giving false information, or attempting to hinder, interfere or in any other manner impede a committee member (or the committee as a whole) from carrying out appropriate duties. Note that the offending action does not necessarily need to be carried out. Merely attempting to do so may be sufficient to constitute a violation under the OHSA.
Penalties for such breaches, which can also include failing to comply with an order from the Ministry of Labour, may include fines of up to $25,000, and imprisonment of no more than 12 months. What’s more, employers may also be subject to additional criminal prosecution that can lead to longer jail sentences. For example, in 2016 the owner of a Toronto construction company was sentenced to 38 months in prison for a 2009 incident in which four workers died, and another was critically injured, after falling 13 stories from a scaffolding outside an apartment building.
Ensuring Your JHSC is Compliant & Effective
Obviously, ensuring worker and workplace health and safety is the right thing to do. However, many employers with good intentions nevertheless face criticisms, sanctions, fines, and in some cases more severe penalties for failing to understand all of their obligations (which constantly change), or overlooking key details (of which there are many). What’s more, the damage that a confrontational or fractured JHSC can have on management-worker relations is often severe, and may lead to a toxic workplace environment characterized by hostility and mistrust.
At PIVOTAL, our in-house human resource experts can help you launch a JHSC if you have recently become obligated to do so under the OHSA, or we can help you review and optimize your current JHSC so that it is fully compliant and demonstrably effective. Contact us today for your free consultation.