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Employer may set “terms of reference” for health and safety committee, arbitration board rules

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Employers have the power to set terms of reference for the administration and operation of joint health and safety committees, as long as those terms are not different than those in the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, an arbitration board has ruled.

The employer amended the terms of reference for its joint health and safety committee.  The union objected to some of the changes, including: the committee would be a subcommittee of the Employer’s Senior Leadership Committee (SLC); the College’s Manager of Environmental Health and Safety Service would act in an advisory capacity on the committee – albeit without a vote -  in addition to the four management members; the committee would meet five times per year (the union wanted ten times); the maximum duration of any meeting would be three hours; notice would be required to be given for the appointment of new members; a co-chair could serve for a maximum of two years; members would be required to maintain confidentiality; and members must maintain an activity log.

The arbitration board decided that it is the employer’s obligation under OHSA to establish and maintain the joint health and safety committee. As a result, there was nothing inherently improper in setting terms of reference for the efficient operation of the committee and to ensure compliance with the OHSA.

The arbitration board stated that the employer may not set rules for the appointment of worker members of the committee that are different than those in OHSA, unless those rules were agreed to.  This meant that the employer may not, without union agreement, place restrictions not found in OHSA on the right of the workers to choose their representatives.  Also, the employer may not impose term limits on the appointment of worker co-chairs that are not present in the OHSA, unless agreed to.  Finally, any members properly chosen by the workers to sit on the committee should not be prevented from sitting on the committee by new rules that have not been agreed to by the committee. 

Fanshawe College v Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 110, 2013 CanLII 66173 (ON LA)