Chapter 14: Safety and Health at Work

14.1 Workplace Safety and Health Laws

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  1. Explain Occupational Health & Safety laws
  2. Explain right-to-know laws

Workplace safety is the responsibility of everyone in the organization. HR professionals and managers, however, play a large role in developing standards, making sure safety and health laws are followed, and tracking workplace accidents.

The need for Occupational Health & Safety Laws

In 2014 (the most recent data available at the time of this writing), 173 work-related deaths were reported in BC, as well as 146,814 injuries. 16 These injuries represent 2.6 million days lost from work. This staggering number represents not only the cost to employees’ well-being but also financial and time costs to the company. This is why health and safety is a key component of any human resource management (HRM) strategic plan. The costs of workplace injuries includes:

  • Lost productivity
  • Lost wages
  • Medical expenses
  • Disability compensation
  • Physical and psychological suffering

About WorkSafe B.C. and Worker’s Compensation

The Workmen’s Compensation Act came into force in 1917, when the Workmen’s Compensation Board was created in BC. In the early 1900s, forestry, fishing and mining were the province’s core industries, and working conditions were dangerous. Loggers and mill workers were at risk of being badly injured and permanently maimed, but Vancouver Island’s coal mines were some of the most dangerous in the world. At the time, injured workers were often terminated from employment and received very little compensation for their injuries. Widows of workers killed on the job were also given very little support. Workmen’s Compensation was an insurance plan that ensured that injured workers and their families were provided for. Today, WorkSafe B.C. administers and enforces the Workers Compensation Act, Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulations, and the Workers’ Compensation program. One of their primary goals of WorkSafe B.C. is to foster the improvement of occupational health and safety in workplaces. This is accomplished by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.

Examples (not at all an exhaustive list) of the types of safety regulations that are overseen by WorkSafe B.C. include:

  1. Personal protective clothing and equipment. This can include wearing safety boots, hearing protection, safety glasses or visors, respiratory protection, and hard hats.
  2. Fall protection. Slips, trips, and falls constitute a significant number of workplace injuries, in all occupations. Passageways, storerooms, and work places must be kept in a clean, organized, and safe condition to eliminate tripping hazards. Individuals working at higher elevations, such as window cleaners or roofers, must also wear harnesses to catch them if they fall.
  3. De-energization and lockout. Moving machine parts require safeguards (depending upon the industry) to prevent crushed fingers, hands, amputations, burns, or blindness. Safeguards might include a guard attached to the machine, but locking machines and ensuring they can’t be turned on is critical when an employee is reaching in to clear, clean or maintain equipment.
  4. Confined spaces. Workers often have to enter confined spaces such as sheds or tanks, and can be overcome by toxins in the air, heat, or suffocation. Additional precautions are required.
  5. Evacuation and rescue. Workers must have unimpeded exits – no locks or fastening to prevent free escape, except in institutions such as prisons. All exits must be marked visibly with signage.
  6. Chemical Agents and Biological Agents. Employees must be aware of all potential hazards when they are handling dangerous goods or chemicals, how to deal with spills and how to administer first aid.
  7. Standards for fire equipment. Fire extinguishers are required to be on-site for use by employees, and must be properly maintained.
  8. Violence in the workplace. Many occupations – policing, nursing, social workers – must provide services to customers / clients who could potentially become violent. Employers must have policies and procedures in place that minimize the risk to their workers.

HR professionals and managers should have a good understanding of these laws and make sure, no matter which industry, that occupational health and safety standards are followed in the workplace. These standards are normally part of the overall strategic HRM plan of any organization and are even more crucial to organizations involved in manufacturing.

WorkSafe B.C. fines companies who violate safety regulations. For example, on June 20, 2016, The Prince George Citizen reported that WorkSafe B.C. fined North Central Roofing Ltd. $7,500 after two employees were found working without proper fall protection in place. This was the third fine levied against the company in six months.17 On December 16, 2015, Brink Forest Products in Prince George was fined $137,546.93 after an inspection in 2014 revealed accumulations of combustible dust. WorkSafeBC reported that “The firm’s failure to control and remove hazardous accumulations of combustible dust was a repeated and high-risk violation.” Brink Forest Products is appealing the penalty.18 In 2014, WorkSafe B.C. imposed 433 penalties on BC employers, totaling $5,994,974.00.19

Worker Rights

In BC, workers have three rights:

  1. Right to a healthy and safe workplace
  2. Right to safety training and orientation
  3. Right to refuse unsafe work.

Training and orientation must include informing workers of these three rights, notifying them of any hazards in the workplace, and training them on safe work procedures. In addition, any organization that manufactures, processes, or stores certain hazardous chemicals must provide employees with material safety data sheet (MSDS), as the data lists not only the chemical components but health risks of the substance, how to handle the material safely, and how to administer first aid in the case of an accident.

WHMIS (Workplace Hazard Management Information Systems) training ensures that employees recognize hazard symbols on containers and know where to find the MSDS information.

Health Canada distributes a poster identifying the hazard symbols of WHMIS. Learn more about the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) here:

Occupational Health and Safety regulations vary from province to province. Always be aware of the laws in the province in which your company is operating.

Human Resource Recall

How do you think the OHS requirements apply to office work settings?

OHS Enforcement

The record-keeping aspect of OHS is perhaps as important as following the laws. Companies having more than twenty employees with a moderate to high risk workplace, and more than 50 workers in low risk workplaces, must initiate and maintain an occupational health and safety program. This program must include training, regular inspections, policies, meetings, investigations, and the maintenance of records and statistics. The purpose of the record keeping does not imply that the employee or the company is at fault for a illness or injury. In addition, just because a record is kept doesn’t mean the employee will be eligible for worker’s compensation. The record-keeping aspect normally refers to the keeping inspections, meetings, incidents and investigations. Many employers track incidence rates in order to determine the effectiveness of their OHS program, using the following formula:

Incidence rate=

# of injuries and illness × 200,000 total hours worked by all employees in the period

Two hundred thousand is the standard figure used, as it represents one hundred full-time employees who work forty hours per week for fifty weeks per year. An HR professional can then use this data and compare it to other companies in the same industry to see how its business is meeting safety standards compared with other businesses. This calculation provides comparable information, no matter the size of the company. If the incidence rate is higher than the average, the HR professional might consider developing training surrounding safety in the workplace.

Knowing what should be reported and what shouldn’t be reported is an important component to OHS.  According to the Act, an employer must immediately report any accident that:

  • results in a serious injury (requiring medical attention) or death of a worker;
  • A major structural failure or collapse
  • A major release of a hazardous substance
  • A fire or explosion that could cause serious injury

The employer must also conduct a preliminary investigation into the incident within 48 hours.

Besides requiring reporting, WorkSafe B.C. also performs inspections. They prioritize inspections according to the type of industry (higher risk industries take precedence), sites where there has been an incident of death or serious harm, or the potential for serious harm, and sites from which they have received complaints from workers.

Most site visits are unannounced and begin with the inspector introducing himself or herself. Prior to this, the inspector has performed research on the organization to be inspected. Once the inspector arrives, a representative of the organization is assigned to accompany the inspector and the inspector discusses the reasons for the site visit. The inspector then walks around, pointing out any obvious violations, and then the inspector and representative discuss the findings. Within six months a complete report is sent, along with any citations or fines based on what the inspector found. If the organization is in disagreement with the violation or citation, a follow-up meeting with WorkSafe B.C. is scheduled. In the event a fine has been levied, WorkSafe B.C. has an appeal process.

Westray Mining Disaster

In 1992, a coal mine disaster in Nova Scotia resulted in the deaths of 26 miners, after an explosion of methane gas. Safety concerns had been raised to the company by employees and government inspectors, but the company failed to respond appropriately. After the explosion, a Royal Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate the incident, and one of the recommendations of that commission was to create an amendment to the criminal code. Bill C-45 came into law 12 years later.

WorkSafe B.C. has several penalties (per violation) it can assess on organizations, ranging from an immediate stop work order or administrative penalties of up to $1,010.33 or fines of up to $1,374,716.89. The higher penalties often are a result of very serious offenses, in which an employee could have been killed, but also are imposed for willful offenses that the employer was aware could cause serious injury or death and did nothing about them. This is considered blatant indifference to the law. In practice, penalties rarely exceed $150,000, but employers and managers can also be charged criminally if they were aware of a dangerous situation and did nothing to resolve it. Bill C-45 (also known as the Westray Act) became law in Canada in 2004 attributes criminal liability to organizations or supervisors that failed to take reasonable steps to ensure safety of workers. Penalties include fines and / or jail time.

Key Takeaways

  • In 2014, 173 work-related deaths were reported in BC, as well as 146,814 injuries.
  • The costs of workplace injuries include lost productivity, lost wages, medical expenses, disability compensation, and physical and psychological suffering.
  • Workers have a right to a healthy and safe workplace, right to be trained, and the right to refuse unsafe work. They also have a duty to follow the employer’s health and safety plan and policies.
  • WHMIS is the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) identify information about how to handle a substance, and how to respond to exposure.
  • Employers must document and maintain records for all workplace accidents or illness. Serious incidents must be reported immediately to WorkSafe B.C. , and investigated by the employer within 48 hours.
  • WorkSafe B.C. can inspect any site without prior notification. Usually, the inspector will gather information, visit the site, and ask for an employer representative. The site visit will be performed, followed by discussion with the company representative. Within six months of the visit, a report and any penalties will be communicated.
  • The Westray Mining disaster resulted in the development of Bill C-45, which allows employers and supervisors to be charged criminally after a serious offense. Penalties include fines and jail time.


1: Research the Internet for recent OHS violations and write two paragraphs describing one.

2: Research possible strategies to reduce OHS violations and write a paragraph on at least two methods.

3: Google Bill C-45; how many criminal convictions have there been since the law was passed in 2004? What were the circumstances surrounding the cases?

16 Statistics 2014, WorkSafe BC. Accessed July 5, 2016
17 Roofer Fined for Unsafe Worksite. Prince George Citizen, June 20, 2016. Accessed July 5, 2016.
18 WorkSafe BC, Penalties. Accessed July 5, 2016
19 Statistics 2014, WorkSafe BC. Accessed July 5, 2016


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Introduction to Human Resource Management - First Canadian Edition Copyright © 2017 by Zelda Craig and College of New Caledonia is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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