Introduction to Health and Safety Representatives

Categories: Health and Safety Representatives, OHS TrainingPublished On: January 30, 2024
Health And Safety Representatives Discussing With An Employee In Ontario, Canada

Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) play a significant role in ensuring health and safety in small businesses with 6 to 19 employees. HSRs are non-management workers chosen by other workers or union members, to address health and safety concerns in the workplace. HSRs have a unique opportunity to support health and safety. Here is an overview of the HSR.

Why Are Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) Needed

As health and safety experts, we cannot stress enough how important workplace health and safety is to the overall environment of every workplace. When health and safety processes are lacking in an organization, the impacts are far-reaching and go beyond impacting the workers.

What happens is a trickle-down effect that starts with unsafe workplaces, and eventually ends up having detrimental impacts on society itself. When workplace safety is not at the forefront, workers can experience reduced morale, reduced ability to work, inability to support their family, reduced quality of life, and reduced income.

In the workplace, poor health and safety practices can result in the loss of experienced workers, a decline in productivity, and increased costs in Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development fines (MLITSD). It can also create a negative public perception of the company.

Society is impacted by increased demand for our already overburdened healthcare system, and difficulty attracting workers to widely known high-risk workplaces. When an HSR is operating effectively, they have the potential to mitigate or eliminate hazards before this domino effect occurs.

How Do HSRs Operate Effectively?

HSRs need the following tools to successfully carry out their duties:

1. Organizational support:

Employers and supervisors must play an active role in supporting the HSR in their workplace for several reasons. The role of an HSR is to identify actual and potential hazards and assist employers/supervisors in the hazard recognition and control process. To fulfill their HSR duties, employers need to be open to HSR recommendations and welcome feedback.

Employers who work closely with the HSR will create a safer workplace and boost morale among workers. Employers can further support the HSR by posting their names and contact information so everyone knows who to go to in their own workplace.

2. Established scope:

Employers can provide HSRs with a clear scope that outlines their purpose, role, responsibilities, powers, and duties. Clear objectives will help attract and keep an effective and committed HSR.

3. Information and resources:

Seeking out relevant research to address health and safety concerns may be necessary. HSRs are entitled to receive health and safety reports, such as noise or indoor air quality reports, previous inspections, employee surveys, and workplace statistics.

Resources may include updated copies of the Act and pertinent legislations, relevant Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standards, and information stored on a shared drive. Information and resources will allow the HSR to make wholesome and informed recommendations.

4. Understanding the RACE model:

To make practical recommendations to the employer, the HSR should base their recommendations on the RACE model: Recognition, Assessment, Control, and Evaluation of hazard controls. A hazard management tool will assist in this process.

Qualifications and Training

The OHSA does not specify qualifications for the HSR with the exception that they must be non-management and be chosen by fellow workers or their union members. HSRs need to have a commitment to health and safety in their workplaces. The responsibility to provide training on how to exercise HSR duties falls on the employer.

If you are an employer at an organization with a new HSR that requires training, HSPI can support you. HSPI has partnered with the MLITSD and Ontario’s Safety Partners to deliver a Health and Safety Representative Basic Training eLearning course. This course allows you to learn on your own schedule, within a certain timeframe, and can be completed at the learner’s own pace.

Reimbursement for training under Ontario’s Small Business Health and Safety Training Program is available, and eligible organizations can apply here. Alternately, the HSR may choose to complete part or all of HSPI’s JHSC Part One and JHSC Part Two training, which is the training mandated in Ontario for two members of a JHSC Joint Health and Safety Committee.

Legal Framework: HSRs and OHS Legislation

HSRs have been created for smaller workplaces where a Joint Health and Safety Committee is not legally required. HSRs are required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act:

  • at a workplace that regularly employs 6-19 workers
  • at a construction project that employs 6-19 workers and is expected to last more than three months
  • at a construction site that employs more than 5 workers and where work will be completed in under three months
  • in a farming operation which regularly exceeds 5 workers and no Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) is required

Additionally, the Act specifies that the HSR’s duties make up part of the paid workday. This will include monthly inspections. Other duties can include investigating work refusals, critical

injuries, fatality investigations, and meeting an MLITSD (Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development of Ontario) inspector at the workplace. When the HSR is involved with their legislative duties, they must be paid at their regular rate and, when applicable, their premium rate, as required.

Key Responsibilities of Health and Safety Representatives

An HSR will support their workplace’s Internal Responsibility System (IRS). Supporting the IRS includes identifying hazards and making recommendations to improve workplace safety. The OHSA empowers Health and Safety Representatives by outlining their rights, powers, and duties. An HSR can:

  • Request safety information from their employer.
  • Be consulted about workplace policies, training, and programs.
  • Conduct regular monthly inspections as well as conduct inspections of the site where a critical injury or fatality occurred.
  • Be present during work refusal investigations; and,
  • Accompany MLITSD inspectors when on-site.

An HSR may assist with the development of health and safety policies and programs and the creation of standards and procedures. It is important to note that while the Health and Safety Representative can assist with health and safety in the workplace, the greatest responsibility falls on the employer. Employers and supervisors are responsible for developing and implementing health and safety programs, ensuring required training is delivered, and enforcing policies and procedures.

Conducting Workplace Inspections

One of the main tasks that an HSR will conduct is workplace inspections to identify hazards. The physical condition of the workplace must be inspected every month. Under certain circumstances, part of the workplace can be inspected every month as long as the entire workplace is included in a one-year cycle.

Section 8 subsection 9 of the Act states that ‘the constructor, employer, and workers shall provide a health and safety representative with such information and assistance as the member may require for the purpose of carrying out an inspection of the workplace.’

Workplace inspections present the ideal time to talk to fellow workers. We encourage HSRs to introduce themselves, explain their role, and garner employee insights on potential hazards they have encountered.

There is no standard workplace inspection form provided by the MLITSD, and this allows each workplace to create a format that meets their unique needs. At HSPI, we like to use checklists that are customized to the workplace.

After conducting the inspection, the HSR will discuss any identified hazards that need to be corrected with their employer. The HSR must write clear descriptions of each hazard and its location. Photos or drawings of hazards may also be included.

Formal Written Recommendations

The HSR may also make a recommendation to the employer based on identified hazards. This recommendation must be written and should include the facts about the health and safety concern, the potential legal non-compliance with H&S law, and be dated and signed.

Once the employer or constructor receives a written recommendation, they have 21 days to respond, in writing. This is 21 calendar days and includes weekends. Once an employer or constructor receives a formal recommendation, they can agree, or disagree with what the Health and Safety Representative has recommended.

If the employer/constructor agrees, they must include a timeline for implementation. If they disagree, the HSR is entitled to receive an explanation explaining why the employer/constructor disagrees. In essence, the law sets out a legal format for a communication cycle.

Work Refusals

HSRs also have an active role to play in work refusals. A work refusal occurs when a worker has reason to believe a situation may be unsafe for themselves or fellow workers. The worker must immediately report their refusal and the reasoning to the supervisor or employer for investigation.

The employer needs to immediately bring in a second worker to assist with the investigation of the work refusal. That person is often the HSR.

Tips for Employers in Supporting HSRs

Employers need to work with Health and Safety Representatives to ensure a safe workplace environment. The OHSA dictates that an employer must:

  • Help during a workplace inspection, incident, or work refusal investigation.
  • Give the HSR notice of workplace testing.
  • Provide information on workplace hazards to the HSR: Under OHSA section 8(11), and employers are required to provide the HSR with information on potential or identified hazards, health, and safety testing of equipment, materials, and/or chemical, biological, or physical agents in the workplace.
  • Respond to HSR written recommendations in writing. The written responses must include timelines showing when the hazard will be resolved, or reasoning for the disagreement.
  • Provide pay for the performance of HSR duties.
  • Allow the HSR to go with the MLITSD inspector during inspections.

Fostering a collaborative relationship between employers and HSRs is essential for maintaining a safe and healthy workplace environment. By adhering to the OHSA, employers contribute significantly to the overall safety and welfare of their workforce, fostering a collaborative approach that benefits both employees and organizations alike.

The Crucial Role of HSRs in Workplace Safety

The impact of effective health and safety representation is a workplace safety culture that employers and employees can believe in. When working in harmony, HSRs and employers can utilize their given powers under the OHSA to promptly identify and remove hazards present in the workplace.


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