Occupational health and safety at work: what you need to know

Learn more about occupational health and safety laws and how they can protect and empower employees
Occupational health and safety at work: what you need to know

There are many laws which protect employees in preventing and assisting them when an accident, injury, or illness occurs in the workplace – one of which is the law on occupational health and safety at the workplace. 

What is occupational health and safety at the workplace? 

Occupational health and safety guidelines at the workplace ensure that employees are safe and healthy by eliminating workplace hazards. 

It addresses this by: 

  • setting up health and safety standards in the workplace to be followed by the employer and the employee, with higher expectations from the employer 

  • establishing a system or protocols for complaints or reporting accidents, injuries, and illnesses that happen in the workplace, or as an employee performs duties for the employer 

  • putting up the liabilities, penalties, and administrative actions against the employer when these standards have been violated, or when there has been inaction or negligence on their part 

Three Rights of a Worker 

In relation to occupational health and safety in the workplace, employees have three basic rights according to the Canada Labour Code

  • Right to Know: to be informed by the employer of all known or foreseeable hazards and dangers related to their job or present in the workplace 

  • Right to Participate: to join in all decision-making processes, especially on workplace policies that affect employees 

  • Right to Refuse: to refuse work, by following the appropriate procedure, when there’s reasonable cause to believe that the workplace, a machine’s operation, or any task is dangerous to the employee and their co-employees. 

These principles apply to all employees whether they are covered by federal law or provincial legislation on occupational health and safety in the workplace. 

To find out more about workers’ rights and other aspects of occupational health and safety laws, speak with a lawyer in your province. If you’re based in Toronto or Ottawa, contact an occupational health and safety lawyer in Ontario as ranked by Lexpert

What are the Canadian laws regarding employees’ safety? 

There are numerous laws and regulations to ensure that employees are healthy and safe in the workplace, such as: 

  1. Canada Labour Code 
  2. Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 
  3. Occupational health and safety laws and regulations of the different provinces 

Here’s a general overview of these laws and regulations: 

1. Canada Labour Code  

The Canada Labour Code covers: 

  • unions and collective bargaining (Part I),  
  • occupational health and safety at the workplace (Part II), 
  • labour standards (Part III), and  
  • Administrative Monetary Penalties for violating employers (Part IV). 


Note that the Code only applies to workers employed in any federal work. This includes employees in federal government agencies and in Crown agencies and corporations.  

Regardless of where they are in Canada, these employees would be covered by the Code. 

The Code also complements the provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act on employment and discrimination. 

Occupational health and safety under the Code 

Employers are responsible for keeping the workplace safe and ensuring the physical and mental well-being of all its employees.  

Employees also have the same responsibility towards their co-workers. 

Any violation of the provisions of the Code may be addressed by: 

  • submitting a complaint to the employer through its internal complaint resolution process; or 
  • submitting a complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board 

Aside from civil liability for damages, violators of the Code may be imposed with the appropriate fines and/or imprisonment if found guilty. 

2. Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations  

These Regulations implement various provisions of the Canada Labour Code, specifically: 

  • Section 125 and 125.1: provides for the specific duties of employers regarding workplace safety standards and hazardous substances 
  • Section 125.2: obligates employers to provide information on the hazardous product that an employee may be exposed to when requested by the employee’s doctor to diagnose or treat the employee when in an emergency  
  • Section 126: provides for the duties of employees to also ensure health and safety in the workplace and to report any hazards and incidents to their employer. 

Like the Code, these Regulations will only apply to workers in the federal government.  

3. Provincial occupational health and safety laws in the workplace 

Among the provincial occupational health and safety laws are the following: 


All other employees and employers not covered by the Canada Labour Code fall under their respective provincial legislation on occupational health and safety in the workplace.  

Employees of provincial governments may also be covered by these provincial legislations. 

Self-employed individuals are also governed by these laws; however, certain exemptions may apply depending on the specific provincial law. For example, Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act does not apply to family farms operated by couples with no other workers. 

Industry-specific standards 

Under these provincial laws, specific standards on occupational health and safety in the workplace will vary for every industry or sector. 

For instance, under BC’s Regulations, each industry or sector will have its own safety requirements, such as construction (Part 20), oil and gas (Part 23), marine operations (Part 24), forestry (Part 26), agriculture (Part 28), among others. 

Incident reporting 

Much like the Canada Labour Code, the provincial occupational health and safety acts and regulations provide for the process of reporting a work-related injury or illness by the employers or the employees. 

By way of illustration, the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Alberta provides that employers or prime contractors must report these incidents: 

  • a fatality at the workplace or work site; 
  • a workplace injury, illness, or serious incident happens; or 
  • a worker's overexposure to radiation 


Employers are also required to conduct their own investigation regarding the incident that caused an injury, illness, or death. 

In addition, provincial government regulatory bodies are empowered by these provincial laws to conduct investigations when complaints or reports have been submitted to them. Employers and employees cannot interfere with these investigations. They have a duty to disclose any information relevant to these investigations. 

Find out what to do when your employee is injured at work in this article.

Know more about the laws regarding occupational health and safety in the workplace by reaching out to any of the Lexpert-ranked lawyers for occupational health and safety in Canada