Ontario employers who have multiple workplaces may wish to have one joint health and safety committee for several workplaces, instead of one for each workplace. The Ontario Ministry of Labour has released guidance for employers on multi-workplace joint health and safety committees, including guidance on when the Ministry of Labour will approve such multi-site committees.
Section 9(3.1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act states that the Ontario Minister of Labour “may, by order in writing, permit a constructor or an employer to establish and maintain one joint health and safety committee for more than one workplace or parts thereof, and may, in the order, provide for the composition, practice and procedure of any committee so established”. The approval power has been delegated to Regional Directors with the Ministry of Labour.
That is, generally speaking, employers must obtain Ministry of Labour approval to have a multi-site joint health and safety committee.
When considering whether to approve an employer’s request for a multi-workplace joint health and safety committee, the Ministry of Labour will consider the following factors:
- the nature of the work being done;
- the request of a constructor, an employer, a group of the workers or the trade union or trade unions representing the workers in a workplace;
- the frequency of illness or injury in the workplace or in the industry of which the constructor or employer is a part;
- the existence of health and safety programs and procedures in the workplace and the effectiveness thereof; and
- such other matters as the Ministry considers advisable.
The Guidance document states that the employer’s application for a multi-site joint health and safety committee must include a written agreement indicating that the “workplace parties” support both the request for a multi-workplace joint health and safety committee and the proposed terms of reference for that committee. As such, if the employer’s workers do not support the concept of a multi-workplace committee, it appears that the Ministry will be hesitant to approve it.
The Guidance document states that the use of video conferencing for joint health and safety committee meetings, where committee members work at different sites, may be appropriate.
The Guidance indicates that Ministry of Labour inspectors will consult with workplace parties, where an employer has requested Ministry approval of a multi-workplace joint health and safety committee. As such, the employer should be prepared for the Ministry inspector, when visiting the employer’s premises, to engage in broader scrutiny of the employer’s safety program and practices.
The Ministry of Labour’s “Multi-Workplace Joint Health and Safety Committee Guidance” may be accessed here.