Internal Responsibility System

The Occupational Health and Safety Act, Ontario's law that governs health and safety in the workplace, sets out legal duties and responsibilities for employers, supervisors and workers to follow. The duties may not be complicated, but if they are not followed, injuries, illness or even the death of a worker can result.

The legal duties and responsibilities of employers, supervisors and workers overlap and complement each other. Together, they create what's known as the internal responsibility system or IRS.

Simply put, the IRS means everyone in the workplace has a role to play and a duty to actively ensure workers are safe. Every worker who sees a health and safety problem such as a hazard in the workplace has a duty to report the situation to management. Once a hazard has been identified, the employer and supervisor have a duty to look at the problem and eliminate any hazard that could injure workers.

The Internal Responsibility System provides some basic rights which include:

  1. The right to know. Employees have the right to know the hazards in their job. An employer or supervisor must tell them about anything in the job that can hurt them. Employers must make sure that employees are provided with the information they need to work safely.

  2. The right to participate. Everyone has the right to take part in keeping the workplace healthy and safe. Depending on the size of the company, either a joint health and safety committee is required, or a health and safety representative is appointed. Everyone has the right to participate in training and information sessions to help them do their job safely.

  3. The right to refuse unsafe work. If a worker believes their job is likely to endanger someone, they have an obligation to report the unsafe situation to management. If the situation is not corrected and they feel that their health and safety is still in danger, they have the right under the Act to refuse to perform the work without reprisal.

And responsibilities which include:

  1. The responsibility to work safely. Workers must use all machinery and equipment the way they were trained to use them and to not make changes to the equipment, take a shortcut or remove a guard.

    Removing a guard or device that has been installed to protect a worker from moving equipment, hot areas or similar hazards not only puts them and others who may use the equipment in danger of injury, it means that the worker has broken the law and may be responsible for the consequences.

  2. Report hazards. Workers who are performing tasks know whether something is wrong with the equipment they're using or whether the working conditions are different. If a guard is missing, if equipment or protective devices aren't working properly, if workers see or sense that there is a hazard in the workplace that could cause injury, or if they know that Ontario's health and safety laws are not being followed, they must report the circumstances to their supervisor or employer as soon as possible.

    Everyone needs to be proactive -- report unsafe conditions as soon as they are spotted, not after something goes wrong.

  3. Use or wear protective devices. Hair nets, rubber gloves, dust masks, aprons, hearing protection, safety boots, and goggles are standard workplace equipment designed to protect workers from potential hazards in their work.

    When the employers require the use of a protective device, they need to show workers how to use or wear it and how to take care of it. Once that's taken place, the employee must use or wear it. Workers may not remove a guard or device designed to protect them.

Employers and Supervisors

Employers have overall responsibility for the safety of persons in the workplace. A lot of the legal duties and responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) are directed at employers.

Their duties include setting policies and procedures, making sure workers are properly trained, providing health and safety information and making sure safety gear is in place and being used.

Employers have to make sure they hire competent supervisors, set up medical programs where needed, form and maintain health and safety committees or have health and safety representatives. They must also post certain pieces of health and safety information in the workplace and more.

The employer has a clear responsibility to make sure workers don't get hurt at work.
Some employer responsibilities include:

  • make sure that required health and safety training is given
  • make sure that workers have proper safety equipment and are trained to use it safely
  • make sure supervisors and workers are aware of any known hazards in the work and that supervisors are competent (e.g. that they understand the Occupational Health and Safety Act and are prepared to ensure the work is carried out safely)
  • take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers
  • in a workplace with more than five workers, have a written health and safety policy and program and post the policy where everyone can read it
  • post the names and work locations of health and safety committee members or the worker representative where it can be seen
  • post the Act and WSIB In Case of Injury at Work poster where they can be read
  • post the latest Ministry of Labour inspection report where it can be seen

How We Can Help

A variety of information, products and services related to the internal responsibility system is available to assist you.

Web Resources

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Consulting Services

Our consultants work together with clients to identify and assess health and safety needs based on the client’s readiness and capacity. General Consulting Services include:

  • Assisting with development of a basic health and safety program
  • Providing health and safety information
  • Identifying and facilitating solutions
  • Assessing training needs

Conferences & Events

Our health and safety conferences throughout Ontario provide excellent opportunities for networking and learning on lifting devices and other key topics. Visit Partners in Prevention 2010 Ontario Health & Safety Conference & Trade Show and the Conferences & Trade Shows section for more information.

Partner Sites

Farm Safety Association (FSA) - FSA provides health & safety information, resources and assistance to firms within the agricultural, horticultural and landscaping industries. Click the link to access their website for more information.

Ontario Service Safety Alliance (OSSA) - OSSA provides health & safety information, resources and assistance to firms within the service sector. Click the link to access their website for more information.

IAPA Resources