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OH&S responsibilities for directors and boards

Aug. 16, 2016 - Whether you are a director or officer of a private company or serve as a director of a community-owned organization, you must take all reasonable care and exercise due diligence to ensure that the company you represent protects the health and safety of its workers and complies with British Columbia’s Workers Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) Regulations.

August 11, 2016  By Dustin Meierhofer

Where a director(s) did not take all reasonable steps to ensure that the company complied with the Workers Compensation Act and OH&S regulations they can be held liable.

In addition, directors and boards can be held responsible under the criminal code as a result of Federal Bill C-45 for violations that result in injuries or death of a worker(s) or a member(s) of the public.

BC Workers Compensation Act Part 3 — Occupational Health and Safety Duties of directors and officers of a corporation Section 121 – Every director and every officer of a corporation must ensure that the corporation complies with Part 3 of the Occupational Health and Safety regulations and any applicable orders.

Being “responsible” includes authorizing, permitting or acquiescing in a failure.


Bill C-45 (or Westray Mine Bill) Criminal Code Section 217.1 was amended, effective March 31, 2004 as follows: Everyone who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task.

The bill establishes legal duties for workplace health and safety, and imposes serious penalties for violations that result in injuries or death.

It also establishes rules for attributing criminal liability to organizations, including corporations, for the acts of their representatives and also creates a legal duty for all persons directing work to take “reasonable steps” to ensure the safety of workers and the public.

Key questions every director and officer of an organization must include:

  1. Does the organization have an OH&S program in place and does it include regular review of safety policies?
  2. Do we regularly review safety incidences within our organization?
  3. Does the organization have effective communications with staff and contractors regarding safety?
  4. Does the organization have a continual improvement process in place?
    a.    Incident tracking and reporting;
    b.    Corrective action process;
    c.    Regular safety management system review including review of safe work procedures and practices; and
    d.    Auditing process.
  5. Does the organization have the appropriate safety resources?
  6. Has the appropriate time and resources been allocated to effectively execute the board’s responsibilities with regards to safety?

Directors and officers can ensure that their company safety program adheres to industry standards and has been effectively implemented in the field by occasionally conducting an internal audit of their safety program.

A qualified individual from outside the organization can provide an unbiased opinion by conducting a review and field check of the organizations safety program which is reported back directly to the directors and board. This process will provide assurance and verification of a compliant and fully implemented safety program.

For more information on the bill, visit: www.parl.gc.ca/About/Parliament/LegislativeSummaries/bills_ls.asp?ls=c45&Parl=37&Ses=2 and www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/legisl/billc45.html

Dustin Meierhofer is the director of transportation and northern safety for the BC Forest Safety Council.

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