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The Role of a Health and Safety Representative

doctor for contractor on the field
doctor for contractor on the field

The Role of a Health and Safety Representative

Information and news on the construction sectorThe Role of a Health and Safety Representative

A health and safety representative’s (HSR) role is paramount for preventing occupational accidents and protecting workers' health in the workplace. It’s a vital role, further reinforced by the Act to modernize the occupational health and safety regime. An HSR will actively participate in workplace risk prevention management, while also working collaboratively with the health and safety committee (HSC) and the employer. Learn about the role and responsibility of an occupational health and safety officer. 

What is a health and safety officer?

As soon as 10 workers are present on-site at once, a part-time health and safety representative must be designated. Said role should be occupied full-time if the worksite accounts for over 100 workers. When it comes to companies with fewer than 20 paid employees, said designated individual will have the title of health and safety liaison officer.

The Role of a Health and Safety Representative or Liaison Officer

The HSR ensures the health and safety of worksite labourers. 

Once granted the title, they will ensure legal monitoring for the benefit of the company. Said role consists of updating all information and obligations that concern the company, both in terms of occupational health and workplace safety.

They're also responsible for steering the action plan, which establishes the company’s prevention program. Therefore, they work closely with their employer, issuing recommendations as they see fit. 

Health and safety representatives are also called upon to investigate problematic situations. In the event of an employer’s shortcomings, they will be responsible for submitting a complaint with the CNESST. 

We’ll circle back to this last point in greater detail in the section dedicated to HSR prerogatives. 

The Link Between a Representative and an Occupational HSC

Now that we covered what an HSR is, let’s turn to an HSC (health and safety committee) and how both parties interact. An HSC is an in-house entity, composed of an equal number of: 

  • employer representatives; and

  • workers. 

Occupational HSC training has been mandatory for all companies employing over 20 workers since April 6, 2022. 

The HSR brings its recommendations to the occupational health and safety committee. Above all, they must assess the risks that workers aged 16 and under may be exposed to. 

Then, the health and safety committee, in close collaboration with the employer, will lean on the recommendations made by the HSR to define the issues and suggest solutions and recommendations.

The employer in question may be opposed to adopting the same solutions as that recommended by the health and safety committee. However, in such a case, they must absolutely justify their reasoning.  

The Representative’s Prerogatives Regarding the CNESST

A health and safety representative may find themself in a tricky situation if the employer refuses to apply the solutions presented by the health and safety committee in light of their recommendations. If so, they must submit a complaint against the employer with the CNESST (the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail).

However, before reaching those grounds, the HSR must contact the company’s entire team of competent stakeholders to determine the necessary corrective measures to rectify a situation that is, without a doubt, precarious for workers. 

Naturally, they will have submitted the entirety of their recommendations for such measures to be upheld. In the event of refusal, or if their recommendations have remained unheeded, they can appeal to the CNESST.

To streamline the communication channels between the HSR and the CNESST as much as possible, the documents presented materializing the legal dispute can be electronically submitted to the CNESST, via the MonEspace CNESST portal. 

Occupational Health and Safety Regulations and Obligations

doctor holding a hammer of justice 

Source: Canva

Act Respecting Occupational Health and Safety: Everything to Know

The Government of Quebec instilled the Act respecting occupational health and safety in 1979, to put an end to the risks and hazards workers faced to their health, safety, and physical integrity. 

This Act has notably initiated the following: 

  • The right to refuse: Articles 12 to 31 

  • The right to opt-out (pregnant worker, contaminants): Articles 32 to 48 

  • A prevention program: Articles 58 to 61

  • Health and safety committees: Articles 68 to 86 

  • A prevention representative: Articles 87 to 97 

  • The “Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail”: Articles 137 and onward 

The Act respecting occupational health and safety (AOHS) has thus created this whole machine we now have come to know in terms of workplace health and safety, from an HSR to the now CNESST (formerly CSST).

Worker (Article 49) and employer (Article 51) obligations are hereby defined. 

Bill 59: Act to Modernize the Occupational Health and Safety Regime

The Act to modernize the occupational health and safety regime is a modernization process which may rescind all regulations related to the Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases as well as the AOHS. 

Such a progression couldn’t have been done all at once. Therefore, the government put together a transitory regime—an interim regime—allowing all companies concerned (most notably those with 20 or more workers), to establish new prevention and participation mechanisms, such as the following: 

  • HSR

  • HSC

  • Health and safety liaison officer (companies with less than 20 workers)

The obligations outlined by the interim regime are distinguished based on whether the establishment in question employs 20 workers or less than 20 employees. 

Obligations for Establishments with 20 or More Workers

  • List on paper the risks associated with workplace health and safety

  • List on paper the risks that may affect workers’ health

  • Put together an HSC (the number of members and meeting frequency is determined by the employer and workers or by the Act)  

  • Designate at least one HSR 

When it comes to a multi-establishment approach, the latter is possible if similar-principled activities are carried out with comparable risks. A single risk identification and assessment is made possible for all related establishments (worksites). In such a case, a sole HSC and HSR will be appointed. However, note that the distance separating both sites has to be taken into consideration in order for their functions to be fulfilled adequately.  

Obligations for Establishments with Fewer than 20 Workers 

  • List on paper the health and safety risks presented to workers

  • List on paper the risks that may affect the workers’ safety

  • Designate a health and safety liaison officer 

A multi-establishment approach is impossible here. 

Check out our article dedicated to construction worksite safety regulations to learn more on the matter.

The Importance of Training for a Health and Safety Representative

worker hurts on the field 

Source: Canva

The role of an HSR is essential yet binding. To be considered fully operational, the latter must have completed training. 

Article 14 of the Regulation respecting prevention mechanisms specific to construction sites, mandates HSR to complete a 3-hour training to obtain their theoretical training certification on the following:  

  • Worksite prevention mechanisms

  • Their role, functions, and responsibilities

  • Workplace inspection

  • Assist workers in understanding their rights 

  • Their role during inspector visits

  • Accident or incident investigations 

On top of this brief training, there’s another training course, this one lasting over 40 hours, as outlined in Article 15 of the aforementioned regulation. Said other training is specifically designed around the prevention program and the functioning of a worksite committee.

Courtesy of such training, an HSR should be able to fulfill their primary function: ensuring the safety of workers at their place of employment.

Hence why the CNESST streamlined access to this training by funding the following: 

  • Registration fees

  • Transportation fees

  • Overnight fees  

The Hurdles and Opportunities of a Health and Safety Representative 

An HSR, as well as a liaison officer, stands between workers and employers. This means that they must insist workers wear their personal protective equipment (PPE) while also ensuring employers provide all worker-related safety materials (e.g. elevator safety barricades to block access during maintenance operations). 

Undeniably, despite fatal accidents and numerous injured individuals, the appointed HSR and HSC aren’t always welcomed by employers with open arms. In fact, the FTQ isn’t shying away from talks of “obstruction” on their part, aimed at preventing the adoption of the Act to modernize the occupational health and safety regime.

Therefore, workplace health and safety representatives will have to assert their positions. Hence why the law protects them from being potentially sanctioned by their employers, enabling them to submit complaints to the CNESST in case of shortcomings.

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Last modified 2024-05-07

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