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Occupation Health and Safety Act – How Does it Affect Your Dental Practice?

By May 25, 2015October 21st, 2021Employment Law

As a dentist, health and safety is not a new concept. However, if you own your dental practice and employ others, you need to think about more than the health and safety of your patients. In Ontario, you also have to consider the health and safety of your employees. Let’s look at how the Occupational Health and Safety Act can impact your dental practice operations.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act, R.S.O. 1990, C. 0.1 (the “OHSA“) is a piece of Ontario legislation that deals with health and safety in the workplace, including violence, harassment, equipment safety, etc. It places a great amount of responsibility for workers’ health and safety on the workers themselves but it puts the onus of enabling the workers to take on that responsibility squarely on the employer.

NOTE: “worker” is defined in the OHSA as being any person who performs work or supplies services for monetary compensation and therefore includes both employees or independent contractors

If you are a dentist employer, you will need to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of the OHSA in order to be compliant. Here are the basics of what every dentist employer needs to know about the OHSA.

Occupational Health and Safety Awareness Training

According to O. Reg 297/13 (a regulation made under the OHSA), all employees must receive occupational health and safety awareness training. The employee can obtaine such training either online or by completing the Health and Safety at Work, Prevention Starts Here workbook in writing. Both these methods can be found on the Ministry of Labour’s website.

Health and Safety Representatives

Where the dental office regularly employs between 6 to 19 workers, then the OHSA mandates that a “health and safety representative” (the “H & S Rep“) be elected by the other workers who do not exercise managerial functions.

H & S Rep Training

The H & S Rep must be provided training by the employer in order to enable them to effectively exercise their powers and perform the duties of an H & S Rep. The employer must pay the H & S Rep their regular wage while they are receiving H & S Rep training or performing duties as an H & S Rep.

Functions/Powers of the H & S Rep

The OHSA gives the H & S Rep certain powers and functions:

  • to conduct inspections of the physical condition of the workplace at least once per month (or if not practical, then at least once per year, inspecting at least a part of the workplace in each month);
  • to identify workplace hazards and make recommendations to the employer, the workers or the union representing the workers;
  • to obtain information from the employer regarding the conducting of tests of any equipment or material for the purposes of occupational health and safety;
  • to be consulted about and be present at the testing of any equipment or material if the H & S Rep believes their presence to be required;
  • to obtain information from the employer about the identification of potential or existing hazards of materials, processes or equipment as well as health and safety experience and work practices and standards in similar or other industries of which the employer has knowledge;
  • where a worker is killed or injured on the job, the H & S Rep has the right to inspect the site where the injury or death occurred and any equipment, thing or material involved in the injury or death;
  • to investigate work refusals;
  • to request information from WSIB on such matters as the number of work accident fatalities, number of lost workdays, the incidence of occupational illness, number of occupational injuries, etc.

Joint Health and Safety Committee

In dental offices with 20 or more workers, the OHSA mandates that a joint health and safety committee (“JHSC“) be established and maintained.

Composition of the JHSC

In workplaces with less than 50 workers, the JHSC must consist of at least 2 persons. Additionally, at least 50% of the JHSC members must be non-managerial workers and elected by non-managerial employees. The other members may be in managerial positions and may be selected by management.

Certification of JHSC Members

You, as the employer, must ensure that at least 1 of the non-managerial JHSC members and 1 of the managerial members are “certified”. Members can obtain certification through many sources, but those sources must be approved by the Ministry of Labour. The Ministry provides a list of approved providers of certification training.

Functions/Powers of the JHSC

The OHSA gives the JHSC certain powers and functions:

  • to elect a member of the JHSC to conduct inspections of the physical condition of the workplace at least once per month (or if not practical, then at least once per year, inspecting at least a part of the workplace in each month);
  • to identify workplace hazards and make recommendations to the employer, the workers or the union representing the workers;
  • to obtain information from the employer regarding the conducting of tests of any equipment or material for the purposes of occupational health and safety;
  • to be consulted about and be permitted to be present at the testing of any equipment or material if the JHSC believes their presence to be required;
  • to obtain information from the employer about the identification of potential or existing hazards of materials, processes or equipment as well as health and safety experience and work practices and standards in similar or other industries of which the employer has knowledge;
  • where a worker is killed or injured on the job, the JHSC has the right to elect a member to inspect the site where the injury or death occurred and any equipment, thing or material involved in the injury or death;
  • to investigate work refusals;
  • to request information from WSIB on such matters as: number of work accident fatalities, number of lost work days, incidence of occupational illness, number of occupational injuries, etc.

Employer’s Duties

Health and Safety Reps and JHSC

Under the OHSA, employers have a general duty to cooperate with and help H & S Reps or the JHSC to carry out their functions. In particular, you, as the employer, are required to do the following:

  • provide information that the H & S Rep or JHSC has the power to obtain from you;
  • respond to H & S Rep or JHSC recommendation in writing;
  • give the H & S Rep or JHSC copies of all written orders and reports issued by the Ministry of Labour inspector;
  • report any workplace deaths, injuries or illnesses to the committee

Workplace Violence, Harassment, Toxic Materials

Other duties of the employer that are mandated by the OHSA include:

  • instruct, inform and supervise workers to protect their health and safety;
  • identify hazardous materials in the prescribed manner and inform workers of those hazards;
  • obtain and prepare Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs);
  • provide information and prescribed instruction/training to workers who are exposed or likely to be exposed to hazardous materials and to ensure that the workers participate in such training;
  • assist in medical emergencies and provide all necessary information to the medical practitioner;
  • appoint competent persons to be supervisors;
  • take all necessary/reasonable precautions to protect workers from workplace hazards;
  • post the necessary information regarding workers’ rights, responsibilities and duties regarding health and safety. View required posting information here;
  • where there are more than 5 workers, prepare a written occupational health and safety policy, post it in the workplace (make it available to workers) and review at least once per year;
  • prepare written policies with respect to workplace violence and workplace harassment and review them at least once per year;
  • regardless of the number of workers at your dental practice, develop programs supporting workplace harassment and violence policies and include measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace violence and harassment and set out how you, the employer, will investigate and deal with incidents.

Workers Can Refuse Unsafe Work Without Reprisal

A worker may refuse work under the OHSA where they believe that:

  • the equipment, instrument, chemical is likely to endanger them or another worker; or
  • the physical condition of the workplace is likely to endanger themselves or another worker; or
  • workplace violence is likely to endanger them; or
  • the workplace, equipment, instrument, chemical, etc. is in violation of the OHSA.

Upon refusal to work, the worker must promptly report the circumstances of the refusal to the employer who must investigate the report in the presence of the H & S Rep or elected member of the JHSC. The worker who refused the work must remain in a safe place near the workplace and be available for the purposes of the investigation

You, the employer, cannot punish a worker who exercises their rights under the OHSA. Where a worker has followed the OHSA and regulations, exercised their rights under the OHSA, cooperated with a Ministry of Labour inspector, provided information to a Ministry of Labour inspector, testified against you or asked you to follow the OHSA and its regulations, you cannot do any of the following:

  • dismiss or threaten to dismiss,
  • discipline or suspend or threaten to discipline or suspend the worker;
  • impose a penalty or threaten to do so; or
  • intimidate or coerce the worker.

Offences and Penalties

If you contravene the OHSA, depending on the infraction and whether you are an individual employer or a corporation, you may be guilty of a criminal offence and may be liable to penalties from $50,000 to $500,000 per infraction. For this reason, you must ensure that you are compliant with the OHSA at all times.

More Information

The full details of the OHSA requirements are too much to cover in one article. But, to help employers gain a better understanding of the Act, the Ministry of Labour has released a guide on the OHSA. This guide is written in simple and easy-to-understand language.

If you need advice on your particular dental practice’s options, please reach out. We are dedicated to helping dentists understand and minimize the risks associated with being an employer and are happy to help and offer more information on this and any employment issuesSend DMC an email or call our Employment Law Team directly at 416-443-9280 x 206.

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