A Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee is required in workplaces with 20 or more employees who work for more than four weeks in a row. A Health and Safety Representative is required in workplaces with 5 or more employees and where no Committee is required. If you have employees working at more than one location, each work location may be considered a separate workplace and you may need more than one committee or representative to effectively provide representation to your employees.
It is the employer's responsibility to establish and maintain a Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee or to make sure a Health and Safety Representative is chosen. If a Committee is required, the employer and employees can decide how big the committee will be. However, at least half of the committee members must be non-management employees and must be selected by the employees they represent or by their union. A Health and Safety Representative must be a non-management employee and must be chosen be the employees they represent. Unlike committee members, Representatives cannot be appointed by a union.
The function of both Committees and Representatives is to get employers and employees working together to improve health and safety in the workplace. Both Committees and Representatives make sure that health and safety hazards are identified, complaints are dealt with promptly, and that health and safety requirements are complied with. Committee members and Representatives also participate in workplace inspections, make recommendations for the improvement of health and safety at the workplace, and provide the employer with advice regarding protective equipment and workplace health and safety policies and programs.
While there is no specified training for Committee members or Representatives, Section 13(1)(c) of the Act, Employers' precautions and duties, require the employer to "....provide information, instruction, training .....as necessary to the health and safety of the employees". Training specific to the functions of the Committee or Representative will greatly enhance the ability of members to carry out their duties. Functions of the OHS Committee or OHS Representative are found in Sections 31 and 33 respectively. Examples of subject matter for training could include: knowledge of OHS legislation, methods of hazard assessment, health and safety auditing, accident investigation, how to run effective meetings, etc.
Employees who are Committee members or Representatives are entitled to time off work for their participation in occupational health and safety activities. Employers are required to pay the Committee members or Representatives at the same rate they would have been paid if they had been performing their regular jobs.
To find out more about the role of Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committees and Health and Safety Representatives, contact:
Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration
Occupational Health & Safety Division
PO Box 697
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Toll-free (within Nova Scotia): 1-800-9LABOUR
Single copies of related publications are available from the Occupational Health and Safety Division of the Department of Labour at no charge. Some publications that may be helpful are: