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Workplace Safety for Small Businesses in Alberta

Workplace safety matters for every business regardless of size or industry. If you’re a small business owner ensuring your company keeps its employees safe is both a moral and legal obligation. This type of risk management won’t only help your workers stay healthy it will help your business succeed and save you money on your insurance.

But we understand that this task can seem overwhelming at times especially if you have only a few employees. We’ll help you navigate workplace safety and point you towards resources that will help you meet occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation.

Why does workplace safety matter?

Unless you work in a dangerous industry such as mining or construction it may not seem obvious as to why workplace safety matters so much. What could possibly happen in a retail store? Is a minor burn in a bakery that big of a deal?

Unfortunately serious injuries and illnesses can happen in any workplace. These can negatively impact lives temporarily or permanently. As a business you can be sued if such an event occurs. Furthermore as an Albertan employer you are legally obligated to provide a safe workplace . Failure to do so can cause irreparable harm to your employees and to your business.

Do all small businesses need to consider workplace safety?

Yes. Even if your industry isn’t something considered to be dangerous there are always risks and accidents happen . Think worst case scenario: if you own a retail business someone could slip and fall when walking into your business or when restocking shelves on a small ladder. They could injure themselves when unloading a truck or trying to open the packaging of a shipment.

Even if you are the only employee Alberta’s OHS legislation requires an emergency response plan and hazard assessment and control. If you employ more than 20 people you must also have a full occupational health and safety program.

What do I need to do to make my workplace safe?

According to Alberta’s OHS legislation your responsibility as an employer is to do what you can to protect your employees from suffering any illness or injury as a result of their work or work site. This includes providing training safety equipment practices and procedures that minimize risks proper investigation into any incidents and competent supervision to ensure everything is done safely. The details will depend on your industry.

Regardless of your business size you must produce an emergency response plan and hazard assessment and control.

Emergency Response Plan

This must be developed by all businesses in the event there is an emergency and rescue or evacuation of employees is required. This should be in writing with paper and digital copies and the plan should be well communicated to workers.

The plan can be as simple as evacuating if there is an alarm or public announcement and contacting emergency services via 911. However if your business deals with materials or workplaces that are more hazardous you will need to develop a more complex plan. For example if you work with chemicals you’ll need a response to a spill or explosion. If your employees need to get into confined spaces you need to have an emergency extraction plan.

You should identify any required training and equipment for a proper response as well as procedures to follow. Section 7 of the OHS Code Explanation Guide walks you through exactly what is needed and provides examples.

Hazard Assessment and Control

This exercise is to identify any potential hazards that your employees may face on the job or at the workplace. Hazards are anything that may be dangerous to the health and safety of workers.

Properly identifying all hazards can be a challenge. The Alberta OHS explanation guide recommends thinking of it as any “accident waiting to happen” and every scenario of “what could go wrong.”

Once hazards have been identified the next step is to determine the level of risk and what measures can be put into place to eliminate or reduce their potential for harm.

A written assessment is proof that you’ve carried out this work. As above identify all hazards and what your company has done to control them. For more info check out the handbook for hazard assessment and control.

Remember that you will need to reevaluate hazards periodically. This should be done any time your business has a new work site there is a new procedure or technology or equipment introduced and anything that contributes a change to the workplace or working conditions. Even if nothing changes it’s recommended a re-assessment be carried out to reaffirm the risks and what is being done to mitigate them.

OHS Program

If your company has more than 20 employees you’ll need to develop a full occupational health and safety program. This is to promote health and safety in your business and minimize the risk of illness or injury to your employees.

Here is what is required:

  • A health and safety policy
  • Hazard assessment
  • Emergency response plan
  • Statement of OHS responsibilities of the employer supervisors and workers
  • Inspection schedule and procedures
  • Procedures if an outside party is at or working in the workplace
  • Health and safety orientation training
  • Investigation procedures for any incidents injuries and refusals to work
  • Procedures for employee participation in OHS including inspections and investigations
  • Procedures for reviewing and revising the OHS program

For more details please visit this quick guide on health and safety programs.

Do employees contribute to a safe workplace?

Your employees are required to work in a way that ensures the health and safety of themselves and those around them They must use safety equipment participate in training cooperate with investigations report concerns and avoid causing or participating in anything unsafe.

Your employees also have the right to refuse dangerous work. This is anything that they believe may put themselves or others in danger. You can learn more about the right to refuse work here.

How do you implement workplace safety?

Through following Alberta’s OHS guidelines and developing the emergency response plan hazard assessment and creating an OHS program you will be well on your way to ensuring a safe workplace.

Beyond that you will need to lead by example and reward safety. Lead by example through practicing safe habits and following your own procedures. You can reward safety through recognition or reward of those who follow safety procedures – not just those who get the job done the fastest. Accidents happen when people do not take safety seriously. Fostering a workplace culture that encourages safety is an important and often overlooked aspect.

Many insurance companies offer resources for risk management and OHS. Having a safe workplace reduces your chance of a claim and saves you money in premiums. Talk to your broker about what resources are available to you.