Sep 1, 2017

The Big Rewards of Health and Safety for Small Businesses to Canada’s economy

Small businesses are big contributors to Canada's economy.  They make up about 98% of all Canadian businesses, employ close to half of the private sector labour force, and contribute more than 30 percent to Canada's gross domestic product (GDP).  Statistics Canada defines a small business as one that has fewer than 100 employees.

Despite their importance to the overall economy, many small businesses face challenges establishing a health and safety program. Besides all that goes with the everyday running of a business, making sure workers are safe presents additional responsibilities. This can be particularly challenging for small business owners who might lack the specialized knowledge to identify workplace hazards and have limited resources.

Small Business Challenges

Running a business is a lot of work. Small business owners are used to working with a tight budget and lean staff. These limited resources can prevent the implementation of workplace health and safety activities.  There is often a general lack of awareness regarding legal requirements, sources for information, and training.

A 2014 Ontario Ministry of Labour report revealed that the most frequently issued orders at small business inspections were for employers failing to: post the Occupational Health and Safety Act in the workplace; take reasonable precautions to protect worker health and safety; and prepare a health and safety policy and maintain a program to implement that policy.


Health and safety legislation across the jurisdictions in Canada is similar; however variances in the regulatory requirements do exist in some areas. Most jurisdictions require employers to establish health and safety committees or designate a health and safety representative if they employ a certain number of workers. Check the legislation in your jurisdiction for exact requirements.

Being a committee member or representative involves training in health and safety law as well as the identification, assessment and control of workplace hazards. A health and safety committee consists of employee and management representatives who meet on a regular basis to resolve health and safety issues. Usually there are equal numbers of management and non-management members, but at least half of the members must be non-management.

The role of committees and representatives is to help employers: identify and control hazards; resolve health and safety concerns and complaints; develop, implement and evaluate health and safety programs; conduct workplace inspections; investigate accidents and incidents; and resolve work refusals.

According to Canadian health and safety legislation the employer and employees are jointly responsible for health and safety. Employers must provide a safe and healthy workplace and employees must follow the practices and procedures established by the employer.

Under Canadian occupational health and safety legislation, employers have the duty to take all reasonably practicable measures in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of the worker.

The following are key regulatory requirements that the employers must meet:

  1. Prepare, review, and maintain health and safety policy.
  2. Establish a health and safety committee or ensure selection of a health and safety representative.
  3. Respond to recommendations of the health and safety committee or a representative.
  4. Provide information, instruction, and supervision to ensure employee health and safety.
  5. Provide and maintain personal protective equipment (PPE)
  6. Investigate and report accidents and illnesses.
  7. Control safety hazards and exposure to hazardous substances.
  8. Establish an occupational health service
  9. Post in the workplace copies of the Health and Safety Act and other documents as required by the legislation
  10. Meet prescribed standards.

The Benefits for Business

Business owners are required to comply with health and safety legislation. However, employee health and safety is not just about compliance with the law. An effective health and safety program can improve productivity and have a positive effect on your bottom line. Benefits of an effective health and safety program can include: reduced operating costs, protection against business interruption, improved employee relations, improved reliability and productivity, and enhanced public image and trust.

When you look at the alternative and the consequences of a serious incident, the impact on a small business can be ruinous. It is far more difficult for a small business to recover from a health and safety incident, and the relative impact is greater than on larger enterprises. In the wake of an incident, a small business may find it difficult to quickly replace key workers. Short-term interruptions of business can lead to the loss of clients and important contracts. Serious incidents could lead to the closure of a business due to the costs associated with an accident or the loss of contracts and/or customers.

A high-performing workplace health and safety program can give your business a competitive advantage. A strong safety culture means a safe and healthy workplace, with a good relationship between management and workers, fewer disruptions and delays in production and services, improved customer service, and a better bottom line.