What is a small business?
Small businesses are those that have less than 50 employees.
What the law says
The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) does not differentiate between small businesses and larger ones. The law requires workplaces with 20 or more regularly employed workers to have a Joint Health & Safety Committee (JHSC) and at least one worker member and one management worker of the JHSC must be certified. Certification involves training in health and safety law as well as the identification, assessment and control of workplace hazards. Workplaces with more than five workers must have a designated health and safety representative.
How the OHSA affects your small business
Some small business owners incorrectly believe health and safety legislation does not apply to them; for example, owners that opt out of WSIB coverage make an assumption that they can also opt out of the OHSA. However, these are two separate pieces of legislation.
Other owners may have read in the Act that a workplace with five or fewer regular employees does not need to prepare a written health and safety policy. However, the Act indicates that if there’s a critical injury or fatality, or even a visit from a Ministry of Labour (MOL) inspector, the business owner would still be required to demonstrate and document that people are working safely, and that a disciplinary process is ready to implement. See S.6 of the Act: “Duties of Employers and Other Persons.”
What you can do
As a small business, you need to keep your health and safety processes simple and informal through management walkabouts, quick staff meetings, a handwritten memo to file, notes in a log book—all viable strategies if inspectors ask if you’ve been meeting your legal obligations. You can implement other effective, yet uncomplicated ways to communicate with staff and keep your business safe and healthy:
Conduct regular “quick talks” on health and safety with staff, using your safe operating procedures, checklists or MSDS sheets as topic guides
Make health and safety part of your everyday operations
Perform regular “safety observation checks” by watching an employee work for two minutes, reinforcing what was done well, and coaching on improvements
Ask staff, who often see what managers don’t, to identify hazards
Ask a staff member to volunteer as a health and safety champion