How to Set Up a Health and Safety Committee

Creating a safe and healthy workplace is essential, not only to meet legal obligations but to foster a culture of care and responsibility within an organization.

In Ontario, establishing a health and safety committee is a legal requirement for workplaces with 20 or more employees, serving as a proactive approach to identifying, addressing, and mitigating workplace hazards.

This guide provides a comprehensive overview for businesses and organizations in Ontario on how to set up an effective health and safety committee, highlighting the steps from understanding legal frameworks to selecting committee members, and from conducting hazard assessments to implementing safety plans.

Understanding the Legal Framework in Ontario

Before diving into the specifics of setting up a health and safety committee, it’s crucial to have a solid understanding of the legal landscape that shapes these requirements in Ontario.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) serves as the cornerstone of workplace safety in the province, outlining the rights and duties of all workplace parties concerning health and safety.

One of the key provisions of the OHSA is the mandatory establishment of a health and safety committee for workplaces with 20 or more regularly employed workers.

Key Provisions of the OHSA:

  • Workplaces with 20 or more employees are required to have a Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC).
  • The committee must be comprised of at least half worker members, who are to be chosen by workers or the workers’ union. This ensures that the committee has a balanced representation and that worker voices are directly involved in health and safety discussions.
  • The JHSC has wide-ranging duties, including identifying workplace hazards, inspecting the workplace regularly, making recommendations to the employer for the improvement of workers’ health and safety, and more. The committee also has the power to obtain information from the employer and to inspect the workplace.
  • Committee members, especially those designated as certified members (at least one worker and one management member), are required to undergo training prescribed by the OHSA. This training equips them with the knowledge needed to effectively carry out their duties.

Step 1: Determine the Need for a Committee

In Ontario, the legal requirement to establish a health and safety committee is clear for workplaces with 20 or more employees. However, even smaller organizations should consider the benefits of having a dedicated group focusing on health and safety issues. The first step in this process is determining the specific needs of your organization and how a committee can address them.

For Larger Workplaces
For workplaces with 20 or more employees, the decision is straightforward due to the legal mandate. However, the focus should be on how the committee can most effectively serve the organization’s specific needs, such as addressing industry-specific hazards or engaging a diverse workforce.

For Smaller Workplaces
Businesses with fewer than 20 employees are not legally required to establish a committee but are encouraged to appoint a health and safety representative. This role can fulfill many of the functions of a committee on a smaller scale, providing a direct line of communication on health and safety issues between the workforce and management.

Step 2: Selecting Committee Members

The effectiveness of a health and safety committee largely depends on the composition of its members. It’s essential to have a balanced representation of workers and management to ensure diverse perspectives and collaborative problem-solving.

Worker Representation
Workers bring firsthand experience of the workplace’s day-to-day operations and are often the first to notice safety issues. Worker members should be elected or selected by their peers to ensure they have the confidence and support of the workforce.

Management Representation
Management members play a crucial role in the committee, providing the authority and resources needed to implement safety initiatives. Their participation demonstrates the organization’s commitment to health and safety and helps bridge the gap between worker concerns and executive decision-making.

Skills and Interests
When selecting members, consider individuals who are genuinely interested in health and safety, possess good communication skills, and are respected by their peers. Diversity in expertise and background can also enrich the committee’s problem-solving capabilities.

Step 3: Training and Education

For a health and safety committee to be effective, its members must be well-informed about their roles, the legal framework, and best practices in workplace safety. Ontario’s regulations specify training requirements for committee members, emphasizing the need for a solid foundation in health and safety principles.

Mandatory Training
Ensure that all committee members, especially those designated as certified (if required), complete the mandatory training programs outlined by Ontario’s safety regulations. This training covers essential topics such as hazard recognition, risk assessment, and the legal rights and responsibilities under the OHSA.

You can find more information about mandatory training here

Ongoing Education
Health and safety are dynamic fields, with new challenges and solutions emerging regularly. Encourage ongoing education and training for committee members to keep abreast of the latest safety trends, technologies, and regulations. This can include attending workshops, webinars, and conferences or subscribing to health and safety publications.

Step 4: Establish Committee Procedures

With a well-selected and trained health and safety committee in place, the next crucial step is establishing clear, effective procedures for its operation. These procedures form the backbone of the committee’s activities, ensuring that it functions efficiently and meets its objectives.

Meeting Schedule
Decide on a regular meeting schedule that aligns with the legal requirements and the needs of your organization. Meetings should be frequent enough to address issues promptly but spaced out enough to allow time for actions to be taken between meetings. Quarterly meetings are a minimum requirement under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) for most committees, but more frequent meetings may be necessary depending on the nature and size of your workplace.

Agenda Setting
Develop a systematic approach for setting meeting agendas. This might involve soliciting input from all committee members and other employees ahead of time. Prioritize items based on urgency, impact, and feasibility. Ensure that there’s a balance between addressing immediate concerns and working on long-term safety improvements.

Accurate record-keeping is essential for tracking the committee’s activities, decisions, and outcomes. This includes minutes of each meeting, which should detail the discussions held, decisions made, and actions agreed upon. These records not only ensure transparency and accountability but also help in monitoring progress over time.

Reporting Mechanisms
Establish clear mechanisms for reporting the committee’s findings and recommendations to senior management and the rest of the workforce. This could include formal reports, presentations, or regular updates in company newsletters. Effective communication ensures that the committee’s work is recognized and acted upon, and it helps to foster a culture of safety across the organization.

Step 5: Conduct Hazard Assessments

A primary responsibility of the health and safety committee is to identify and assess hazards within the workplace. This step is critical in developing effective strategies to eliminate or control risks.

Identifying Hazards
Start by conducting thorough inspections of the workplace to identify potential hazards. These can range from obvious physical risks to less visible issues like ergonomic risks or hazardous substances. Engaging workers from different areas and roles can provide valuable insights into less obvious hazards.

Assessing Risks
Once hazards are identified, assess their potential impact and the likelihood of occurrence. This risk assessment helps prioritize safety efforts, focusing resources on the most critical areas. Factors to consider include the severity of potential injuries, the number of employees exposed, and the frequency of exposure.

Recommending Controls
For each identified hazard, the committee should recommend ways to eliminate or mitigate the risk. This could involve engineering controls, administrative changes, personal protective equipment, or a combination of these and other strategies. Recommendations should be practical, feasible, and tailored to the specific context of the hazard.


Setting up a health and safety committee in Ontario requires a methodical approach, from understanding legal obligations to selecting members and establishing operational procedures.

By conducting thorough hazard assessments and developing targeted safety plans, the committee can play a pivotal role in creating a safer workplace.

The steps outlined provide a roadmap for organizations to not only comply with legal requirements but also demonstrate a genuine commitment to the well-being of their employees.

The success of a health and safety committee ultimately hinges on collaboration, ongoing education, and a shared commitment to continuous improvement in workplace safety.

If you’re looking to get your team up to date with Health and Safety, contact Rescue 7 to learn more about our training programs.