Guide to an OHS Policy and Program

How-To Guide for OH&S Policy & Program : NS Labour and Advanced Education, Health and Safety
(as required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act: Sections 27 and 28)

Table of Contents


In February of 1993, government approved funding for labour and management to review, cooperatively, the:

  • the Occupational Health and Safety Act
  • related regulations, and
  • policies used by the Occupational Health and Safety Division.

The Nova Scotia Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Council accepted responsibility for managing this task. Members of the Council represent key labour groups, employer and manufacturing sectors in Nova Scotia.

During a period of two and one-half years the process included:

  1. distribution of thousands of discussion documents to interested groups and individuals.
  2. extensive analysis of the opinions received.
  3. exemplary effort by volunteer working groups nominated by stakeholders to build a workable consensus for each project.
  4. a report to government in 1995 on proposed areas of reform.

As a result, the new Occupational Health and Safety Act received Royal Assent on May 17, 1996.

To help explain two major parts of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Division has prepared this guide for Section 27 - Requirement for Policy, and Section 28 - Requirement for Program.

An organization employing five to 19 employees in Nova Scotia, must comply with Section 27 - Requirement for Policy, which we explain in the first part of the guide.

An organization employing 20 or more employees in Nova Scotia, must comply with both, Section 27 - Requirement for Policy and Section 28 - Requirement for Program.

Why is a Policy Needed at a Workplace?

The reasons the Act requires a workplace to have a written health and safety policy are:

  • to state clearly what the employer intends to do by declaring commitment and support for a sound occupational health and safety program.
  • to assist the organization in preventing accidents. The policy will make a clear commitment in eliminating / preventing the causes of injuries and illness.
  • to integrate the internal responsibility system in an organization with a policy statement from the employer describing how it will accomplish this at all levels of the organization. The employer will inform the employees they have legal rights and will work together to improve health and safety at the workplace.
  • to ensure that adequate human and financial resources are made available to ensure compliance with the Act.
  • to assist in achieving occupational health and safety objectives.

Preparation of a Health and Safety Policy Writing the Policy

Your policy is a statement of the intention and commitment of the employer toward the health and safety of the employees at the workplace. Some important points to consider when writing the policy are:

  • promoting the health and safety of employees
  • protection from hazards, eg. fire, noise, burns, slips and falls, violence and hazardous products
  • complying with existing legislation.

Your policy statements should include references such as the following:

  • the clear commitment of the employer to provide a healthy and safe work environment for employees and the integration of health and safety in everyday work activities.
  • the assertion of the employer's responsibility to take all reasonable precautions to prevent illness and injury to an employee; eg. (a) addressing training needs of employees in the use of healthy and safe work procedures; (b) supplying proper supervision and enforcement of safe work procedures.
  • a senior management person who will sign the document and ensure that the policy is carried out.
  • the employer's commitment to co-operation and consultation with all levels of the organization to implement the occupational health and safety policy effectively.
  • the need for everyone to take responsibility in maintaining a healthy and safe workplace
  • the need to review at least annually, and update the policy to be current with workplace changes and government legislation.
  • the requirement that all employees will be held accountable for their health and safety responsibilities.

Please Note: These references may not be all inclusive. They are minimum requirements; and, the individual needs of your organization may require a broader version. Each organization is unique; local conditions will dictate the specifics of your policy.

Communicating Your Policy:

Communication of your policy is vital to realizing its benefits. It should be written in clear language and easily understood by all employees. It must be posted in a prominent area in the workplace and made available on request to an employee or to a Department of Labour and Advanced Education Occupational Health and Safety Officer.

What Does a “Policy” Look Like? A sample of a Health and Safety Policy Scope

This policy will apply to Your Company Name / Organization and all of its locations. Policy

Your Company Name / Organization is committed to providing a healthy and safe work environment for its employees and preventing occupational illness and injury.To express that commitment, we issue the following policy on occupational health and safety.

As the employer,Your Company Name / Organization is responsible for the health and safety of its' employees. Your Company Name / Organization will make every effort to provide a healthy and safe work environment. We are dedicated to the objective of eliminating the possibility of injury and illness.

As ( president, owner, operator, chief executive officer, etc.), I give you my personal promise to take all reasonable precautions to prevent harm to workers.

Managers and supervisors will be trained and held responsible for ensuring that the employees, under their supervision, follow this policy. They are held accountable for ensuring that employees use safe work practices and receive training to protect their health and safety.

Managers and supervisors also have a general responsibility for ensuring the safety of equipment and facility.

Your Company Name / Organization through all levels of management, will co-operate with the Joint Occupa- tional Health and Safety Committee,or the representative and employees to create a healthy and safe work environment. Co-operation should also be extended to others such as contractors, owners, officers, etc.

The employees of Your Company Name / Organization will be required to support this organization's health and safety initiative and to co-operate with the occupational health and safety committee or representative and with others exercising authority under the applicable laws.

It is the duty of each employee to report to the supervisor or manager, as soon as possible, any hazardous conditions, injury, accident or illness related to the workplace. Also, employees must protect their health and safety by complying with applicable Acts and Regulations and to follow policies, procedures, rules and instructions as prescribed by Your Company Name / Organization.

Your Company Name / Organization will, where possible, eliminate hazards and, thus, the need for personal protective equipment. If that is not possible, and where there is a requirement, employees will be required to use safety equipment, clothing, devices and materials for personal protection.

Your Company Name / Organization recognizes the employees duty to identify hazards and supports and encourages employees to play an active role in identifying hazards and to offer suggestions or ideas to improve the health and safety program.

.............................................of Your Company Name/Organization
President / CEO / Owner / Operator

NOTE: This policy statement has been developed in co-operation with the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee , representative or employees.

What Will Make The Policy Work? Putting Your Policy in Place.

A key element in making sure that the policy works in your organization is to involve everyone in the process. That means the policy is drafted with input from all levels of the company. Also, your policy should have enough flexibility built in to adapt to the needs of diverse company applications.

To put your policy into effect, make sure that:

  • everyone in the workplace is informed about the policy
  • everyone understands their roles and responsibilities
  • accountability is clearly established
  • adequate human and financial resources are provided
  • a process for setting up and reviewing procedures and programs is established.

What is a “Program”?

The occupational health and safety program of an organization contains the elements that makes it possible to realize your policy objectives.

Each program will be unique to each company; but, there are some common elements required to comply with legal obligations and meet general health and safety requirements. Overall, to realize maximum effectiveness, a program will have the following:

  • a clear set of responsibilities and lines of accountability for health and safety assigned to an individual(s) within the organization
  • a process to ensure participation of employees in the program
  • a system to identify, assess and control hazards
  • a schedule to ensure that ongoing training is done for all staff
  • a method of establishing standards
  • periodic audit and assessment of the program.

What must a “Program” contain?

An Occupational Health and Safety Program must have:

  1. a method of ensuring that employees are trained on how to protect themselves when dealing with health and safety issues and that supervision of employees by the employer is maintained.
  2. a method by which safe work procedures are written / generated to make sure that healthy and safe work practices are used. An evaluation / analysis of work practices is required to determine those procedures.
  3. a joint occupational health and safety committee(JOHSC) in a workplace with 20 or more regularly employed employees. They must maintain records. The JOHSC must have access to the employer or a representative who can fix a health and safety problem.
  4. in a workplace with 5 - 19 regularly employed employees, a representative picked by the employees, who will do the same job as the JOHSC.
  5. a system of identifying hazards, including:
    • evaluating / inspecting the work areas for possible hazards on a regular schedule
    • a reporting method with someone given the job of ensuring that the problem(s) is/are fixed
    • a clear idea of what, when and how the employer will report to the JOHSC or representative about workplace hazards.
  6. a monitoring, follow-up and control system for hazards that may be identified in the workplace.
  7. a system to keep all records concerning health and safety , and any reports of inspections or orders written by the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, or tests performed on the workplace. This documentation must be made available on request to an employee and/or to a Department of Labour and Advanced Education Occupational Health & Safety Officer. It is the responsibility of the employer to maintain all records related to occupational health and safety at the workplace.
  8. a method of tracking the program to monitor how it is used by the employer and employees and its effectiveness in the workplace.

Please Note: the aforementioned represents summary requirements according to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. It should serve as an example only and may be used as a guide to develop a policy and a program to suit your own work environment.

This information has been prepared by the Occupational Health and Safety Division. For clarification on the above material or any other parts of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, or Regulations please contact the Division. Please send any remarks or comments to the address mentioned above and send it to the attention of: “Policy and Program”, Occupational Health and Safety Division.