The joint health and safety committee (JHSC) is one of the key components of an OHS program. In some ways, the committee’s effectiveness can determine the program’s effectiveness. JHSCs are also highly regulated under OHS law. So it’s easy to get tripped up and violate the many JHSC requirements. To help you avoid such violations, here are answers to 14 questions safety professionals frequently have about JHSCs.
14 JHSC FAQs
A The OHS laws spell out which workplaces require a JHSC (or a health and safety representative). Although there are some variations across Canada, the establishment of a JHSC usually depends primarily on how many workers are in the workplace:
- Zero to four workers: Neither a JHSC nor a health and safety representative are required;
- Five to 20 workers: A health and safety representative is required; and
- More than 20 workers: A JHSC is required.
There are exceptions, of course. For example, in Alberta, a workplace must establish a JHSC only if the government orders it to do so. In addition, there may be situations in which one JHSC can represent several workplaces, but that’s uncommon.
Insider Says: It’s not always easy to determine whether a company’s operations constitute one or multiple workplaces and thus whether it needs a JHSC. Take this quiz to see if you can tell if a lumber company needs a JHSC.
A The number of members a JHSC must have varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. But there are three basic approaches:
- Minimum number: A few jurisdictions set a minimum number of required members, ranging from two to four. Of course, a workplace can always have more members than the minimum if it so chooses;
- Range: Other jurisdictions set a range, specifying the minimum and maximum number of members, which gives workplaces some flexibility. The usual range is four to 12 members; and
- As agreed: Some jurisdictions let the workers and management decide for themselves how many members the JHSC should have.
A There are two kinds of JHSC members: worker representatives and management representatives. That’s because under the Internal Responsibility System (IRS), both workers and management play a role in identifying and eliminating workplace hazards. Remember, the “J” in JHSC stands for “joint”—that is, the committee is intended to be a joint undertaking between management and workers.
Once you know or decide how many total members the JHSC must have, you must ensure that the breakdown of worker v. management members complies with the law. The OHS laws generally require there to be at least as many worker representatives as management representatives on the JHSC. But some jurisdictions let workers have more representatives than management.
A Most OHS laws require a JHSC to have two co-chairpersons, one representing workers and the other representing management. The key duty of the co-chairs is planning for and running the JHSC meetings. And some jurisdictions specify that they must take turns doing so. The co-chairpersons may also take on other duties, such as being the liaison between the JHSC and management.
A The answer to this question is complicated. The JHSC has a lot of responsibility. Its members are expected to help identify workplace hazards, develop incident prevention programs and policies, and address worker safety concerns. To perform these functions effectively, JHSC members may need and should get special training.
That being said, the OHS laws don’t always require JHSC training. The jurisdictions take five approaches to this issue:
- Require all JHSC members to get training;
- Require JHSC leaders, such as co-chairpersons or “certified members” in Ontario, to get training;
- Require employers to allow all JHSC members to get training;
- Require employers to allow JHSC leaders to get training; and
- Recommend that JHSC members get training.
Bottom line: Having an ineffective JHSC may be worse than having no committee at all. So it’s in your best interests to ensure that the JHSC members are adequately prepared to perform all of their functions. The best way to do so is to ensure they get trained on:
- The IRS and the role of the JHSC and its members within it;
- A “plain English” overview of the OHS laws and related regulations in your jurisdiction;
- Health and safety basics;
- The JHSC’s roles and responsibilities under the law;
- The JHSC’s rules of procedure and requirements, such as number of members it must have, how often it must meet and so on;
- The company’s workplace safety policies and programs;
- The hazards specific to your workplace and your industry;
- The role of the JHSC in inspections, hazard identification, investigations, worker complaints and work refusals; and
- Basic problem-solving strategies and communications skills.
A Workers should be paid for being on the JHSC. After all, although attending a JHSC meeting may not be a member’s usual work assignment, it’s still a work-related function and an important one. As a result, the OHS laws typically require workers to be paid or specify that they shouldn’t lose pay or benefits for time spent on JHSC duties, such as preparing for and attending committee meetings and conducting workplace inspections.
A The best way to run a JHSC is by setting “rules of procedure” (also called “terms of reference”) for its operations. In fact, some OHS laws require JHSCs to have their own rules of procedure. The rules should be comprehensive and address all of the JHSC’s functions at a minimum, including:
- Committee membership, such as how long members serve;
- Meetings, including how conflicts will be resolved;
- Inspections and investigations;
- Recommendations to the employer;
- Work refusals; and
Even if your jurisdiction doesn’t require rules of procedure, your JHSC should have them anyway. Rules provide structure that allows the committee to function well. For example, when a situation such as a safety incident or work refusal arises, JHSC members won’t have to improvise. Instead, there will already be a system in place to help them effectively respond to that situation.
Insider Says: For more information on JHSC rules of procedure, see “The Joint Health & Safety Committee: What Are ‘Rules of Procedure’ & Why Your Committee Needs Them?” June 2010, p. 1. And you can download a checklist of the areas your JHSC’s rules of procedure should cover, a questionnaire for use when developing rules of procedure and model rules of procedure.
A The most basic function of a JHSC is holding regular meetings. As a result, the OHS laws not only require JHSCs to conduct regular meetings but also spell out detailed requirements for those meetings, including how often they must be held. The jurisdictions generally require committees to hold either monthly or quarterly meetings, that is, once every three months. In addition, some jurisdictions require a JHSC to hold an initial meeting soon after it’s established and then meet regularly thereafter. This first meeting may need to be held anywhere from within 10 days to one month after the JHSC is established.
Note that the OHS law sets the minimum frequency for regular meetings. JHSCs can decide to meet more often than required. In fact, JHSCs, especially those in particularly hazardous workplaces, should consider meeting monthly even if they’re not required by law to do so. And the committee may also need to occasionally hold special meetings, such as after a safety incident, to address a work refusal or to plan for the following year.
A In general, JHSC meetings should be run according to an agenda that’s given to members before the meeting. Although the co-chairs generally set the agenda, they shouldn’t monopolize it. That is, the co-chairs should add items based on suggestions from other members, management and workers. A typical JHSC regular meeting agenda includes:
- A review of the minutes of the last meeting;
- A review of old business;
- A discussion of the most recent workplace inspection;
- A discussion of safety concerns raised by the workers;
- A discussion of new business, such as recent safety incidents, new equipment in the workplace, changes in the OHS laws or government orders;
- A discussion of any seasonal issues, such as cold stress in the winter and heat stress in the summer; and
- Decisions on how to address new issues, such as determining if any formal recommendations should be made to the employer about identified safety hazards.
A Yes. Every jurisdiction requires the JHSC to keep minutes of its meetings. The minutes should be used not only to summarize what occurred in the meeting but also to document the JHSC’s performance of its functions and compliance with its duties under the OHS laws. In addition, the meeting minutes could be valuable evidence of due diligence if the company is charged with an OHS violation.
As to the form of the minutes, some jurisdictions have specific minutes forms that the JHSC must use, while others let committees use whatever form they want. Either way, the JHSC should make its meeting minutes available to all workers. In fact, the OHS laws may require you to post them in the workplace. In addition, you may have to provide them to a government safety inspector on request.
Insider Says: For more information on JHSC meeting requirements, see “The Joint Health & Safety Committee: How to Comply with JHSC Meeting Requirements,” April 2009, p. 11. And you can download a meeting template.
A The OHS laws generally require JHSCs to conduct workplace inspections or to participate in inspections conducted by the employer. How often they must do so depends on the jurisdiction and the nature of the workplace.
Some OHS laws specify how often workplaces must be inspected, such as monthly or at least once before each regular JHSC meeting. But others simply require “regular” inspections or inspections at “reasonable intervals.” What does that mean? The answer varies depending on the size of the workplace and the level of risk involved in the operations. In many cases, monthly inspections will be adequate. And in low risk workplaces, such as office settings, quarterly inspections may be sufficient. But high risk workplaces or high risk areas within workplaces may need to be inspected more frequently—even if monthly inspections are all that the OHS law requires. For example, you might inspect the assembly line in a factory weekly, but only inspect its administrative offices a few times a year.
A The basic goal of a JHSC inspection is to identify safety hazards or potential safety hazards. While conducting the inspection, the members should not only look for hazards themselves but also speak to workers and supervisors about any safety issues or concerns they may have. Any identified safety hazards should be documented. The JHSC should discuss in its next meeting ways to address the identified hazards and make recommendations to the employer on how to do so. And then during the next inspection, the members should note whether the previously identified hazards have been properly addressed.
Insider Says: For more on JHSCs and inspections, see “The Joint Health & Safety Committee: Part 1: The Committee’s Role in Workplace Inspections,” Sept. 2007, p. 1 and “The Joint Health & Safety Committee: Part 2: Five Steps for Effective Workplace Inspections,” Oct. 207, p. 1. And you can download and adapt a workplace inspection worksheet for use during JHSC inspections.
A Say a pinchpoint in a piece of machinery is identified during a JHSC inspection. The committee recommends that the employer install a machine guard on that equipment. Must the employer do so? It depends. The OHS laws generally require employers to consider and typically respond, usually in writing, to all JHSC recommendations. But they don’t require employers to adopt all recommendations. For example, some recommendations may be unrealistic or too costly. However, if the JHSC recommends that the employer do something that the OHS law requires, such as installing machine guards to protect workers from pinchpoints, the employer must implement the recommendation.
Insider Says: For more handling JHSC recommendations, see “Minimize Liability Risks When Rejecting Unrealistic JHSC Recommendations,” July 2005, p. 1.
A Bill C-45 changed the application of the criminal negligence section of the Criminal Code as it applied to workplace safety incidents, making it easier to hold anyone who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs
a task criminally liable if someone is injured or killed. Although the law was supposed to be targeted at members of senior management, such as officers and directors, the broad language has made some in the safety profession worry that it could be applied to others, such as members of the JHSC.
In theory, the law could be applied to JHSC members. But in reality, the risk of liability for criminal negligence for JHSC members is low. That’s because the JHSC is generally empowered only to make recommendations that the employer can accept or reject, conduct inspections and investigate incidents. However, that risk can increase to the extent the JHSC imposes its will on management and actually dictates how operations are carried out. In other words, the more the JHSC is running the show, the more it’s exposed to the risk of possible criminal liability.
It’s critical that safety coordinators understand the requirements in the OHS laws for JHSCs and take steps to ensure that their committees comply with these requirements. Doing so will not only avoid liability for safety violations but also help the JHSC do its job well and thus improve overall safety in the workplace.
JHSC Compliance Centre