Occupational Health and Safety

Last updated on November 8, 2023

Get an overview of legislative and regulatory occupational health and safety requirements. If you have questions or concerns, contact us!


Why You Should Care about the Act and Regulation

Preventing work-related illness and injury is the most important job at any workplace. Aside from the obvious benefit to workers, prevention makes good business sense: it increases productivity and saves money by decreasing compensation claims and equipment damage.

The Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation set out the legal requirements you must follow as an employer operating in British Columbia. If these requirements are not followed, WorkSafeBC may choose from a variety of enforcement tools including stop work orders and administrative penalties.


Workers Compensation Act Basics

As an employer, you have a responsibility to keep workers healthy and safe at your workplace, regardless of the size of your business.

The Occupational Health and Safety provisions of the Workers Compensation Act contain essential information you need to know to fulfill your safety obligations as an employer in British Columbia.

In particular, sections 21, 22, and 23 set out the general duties of employers, workers and supervisors respectively. These sections provide the foundation for the health and safety responsibilities of all workplace parties.

Joint committees, accident and incident investigation as well as workplace inspections are covered in sections 31 to 46 and are an important part of a safety plan. Consult these sections, in addition to the specific regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation that govern your workplace activities, before creating your plan.


Occupational Health and Safety Regulation Basics

The Workers Compensation Act sets out safety requirements legislated by the provincial government.  The Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (Regulation) is supplementary law developed by WorkSafeBC in consultation with the industry stakeholders to ensure worker safety. These rules stipulate safety standards to help prevent workplace accidents and injuries.

Employers in British Columbia must comply with the provisions in both the Act and the Regulation.

The Regulation is organized into three sets of requirements: the core requirements; general hazard requirements; and industry and activity related requirements.

As an employer in British Columbia, you must comply with the “core requirements” which are found in Parts 1 through 4 of the Regulation. These provisions set out the safety responsibilities of all parties in the workplace and the general requirements for safe workplace conditions.

Specific hazards, such as electrical work, chemicals, and personal protective equipment are set out in Parts 5 through 19 of the Regulation.

Some industries and undertakings have specific safety requirements. These requirements are set out in Parts 20 through 34 of the Regulation. Industries included in these provisions are construction, oil and gas, forestry and agriculture. Industrial undertakings such as blasting, camps, wood products and firefighting also have specific safety requirements, in addition to working with or near hazards like asbestos and electricity, and working from heights, with ladders or in confined spaces.

To further help employers understand their safety obligations under the Act and regulations, WorkSafeBC has created policies, guidelines, and WCB Standards. These documents give you further practical information to comply with safety requirements.


Accident/Incident Investigations and When to Report

The Workers Compensation Act sets out when an employer must immediately report an accident or incident to WorkSafeBC. Included in the list are when an accident results in

  • a serious injury or death of a worker
  • a major structural failure collapse of a building, bridge, tower, crane, hoist, construction support system or excavation
  • a major release of a hazardous substance

Any of these events also require the employer to conduct an investigation into the cause of the accident. Employers are further obliged to investigate an accident or incident that gave rise to a worker injury requiring medical attention, or which did not involve injury, or involved only a minor injury, but which had the potential for causing serious injury (often referred to as a “near miss”). Whenever you are required to file an Employer’s Report of Injury, you are obligated to conduct an investigation.

Investigations are a two-step process. An employer must first conduct a preliminary investigation, identifying unsafe conditions, acts, or procedures that significantly contributed to the accident or incident. A report of this preliminary investigation must be completed within 48 hours and any interim corrective action undertaken and documented without undue delay.

Following the preliminary investigation, an employer must conduct a full investigation determining the cause of the incident or accident and corrective action required, which action is to be implemented as soon as possible. The full investigation must be completed and a report prepared within 30 days of the accident or incident.

Copies of the reports must be provided to your Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee, worker representative, or posted, as applicable.

WorkSafeBC has created investigation forms for employers to use in order to meet these requirements. The Employers’ Advisers Office can help you complete these forms. In addition, our office offers a free half-day Accident Investigation seminar.


Young or New Worker

A “young worker” is any worker who is under 25 years of age.

A “new worker” is any worker who is:

  • new to the workforce;
  • returning to a workplace where the hazards in that workplace have changed during the worker’s absence;
  • affected by a change in the hazards of a workplace; or
  • relocated to a new workplace if the hazards in that workplace are different from the hazards in the worker’s previous workplace.

As an employer, you must ensure that before a young or new worker begins work in a workplace, the young or new worker is given health and safety orientation and training specific to that worker’s workplace. 

You must review the following with your young or new workers in their orientation and training:

  • The name and contact information of their supervisor or others they may be working with and reporting to
  • Their rights and responsibilities under the workers’ compensation legislation, including how to report unsafe conditions  and their right to refuse unsafe work
  • Workplace health and safety rules that apply at your work site
  • Hazards of the worksite
  • Safe work procedures if they are working alone or in isolation
  • The potential for violence in the workplace and what to do if it occurs
  • Personal protective equipment such as gloves, goggles, safety footwear
  • The location of first aid facilities, how to get first aid and how and to whom to report illnesses and injuries
  • Emergency procedures that apply to the workplace
  • Full instruction and demonstration of the workers tasks and the work processes
  • Your company’s health and safety program, if required
  • All hazardous materials (WHMIS) that may be at the work site
  • Contact information for the occupational health and safety committee or the worker health and safety representative or anyone they may need to go to for direction

Other Workers/Contractors/Subcontractors

As an employer in British Columbia, you must ensure the health and safety not only of your own workers, but for any other worker present at a worksite at which your work is being carried out. The extent of this obligation varies and is set out in WorkSafeBC Prevention policy.

In addition, you have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of the contractors or subcontractors you hire at your worksite. The nature of this obligation depends on whether a contractor or subcontractor has been found to be independent by WorkSafeBC. For information regarding safety and claim obligations owed to these persons, see Contractors/Subcontractors.

Health and safety responsibilities for another employer’s workers and for contractors and subcontractors are complex. We recommend you contact the Employers’ Adviser Office for advice and assistance.


Bullying and Harassment

Bullying and harassment is considered a hazard of the workplace which, like other workplace hazards, must be addressed by the employer. WorkSafeBC has created policy defining what is meant by bullying and harassment and stipulating the reasonable steps an employer must take to prevent or minimize it.

 Included in these required steps are the development of:

  • a policy statement
  • reporting procedures
  • investigation procedures
  • worker and supervisor training

Prohibited Action Complaints

A worker may submit a prohibited action complaint if they believe you have penalized them for reporting a health and safety concern. Raising a health and safety concern is a protected right or duty under the Workers Compensation Act. If you suspend, demote, lay off, terminate or change a worker's duties or hours after that worker reports an unsafe piece of equipment, condition, or work process, that worker may be entitled to a remedy under the Act. This means WorkSafeBC may order you to stop the prohibited action, repay any lost wages, reinstate the worker, clear the worker's record of any disciplinary references, or take other steps set out in the Act.

The procedures for resolving prohibited action complaints are unique under the Act, and often involve third party mediation. For information and assistance regarding such claims, see Disputing a Prohibited Action Complaint, or contact the Employers’ Advisers Office.