If employees - including joint health and safety committee (JHSC) members - are working from home, it may be more challenging for the JHSC to fulfil its key functions, says WSPS Account Manager Pamela Patry. "But those functions don't go away; they must still be performed."
The JHSC plays a vital role in the province's Internal Responsibility System by ensuring effective communication between the employer and employees. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers must ensure JHSCs have at least two certified members, hold regular meetings, conduct workplace inspections, and identify health and safety issues to make recommendations for control. These requirements still apply even during a pandemic.
Pamela offers solutions to four key JHSC challenges below.
Challenge 1: ensure certification training is up to date
Solution: take virtual training now. If your committee does not have a management rep and a worker rep who have undertaken Certification, Part One: Basic Training, and Certification Part 2: Hazard Specific Training, or the certified member(s) require refresher training, advise your employer that training is required. In response to COVID-19 requirements to physically distance, virtual training is available.
Challenge 2: meet at least every three months
Solution: switch to virtual meetings or conference calls. Make sure all committee members have relevant documents in advance, including an agenda, minutes from the previous meeting, and other pertinent information.
If JHSCs don't have access to a teleconferencing line or a web-based video program, ask the employer to provide them. Employers have a duty to provide JHSCs with resources and support. "This might include training co-chairs on how to hold a virtual meeting and ensuring everyone on the committee is heard," says Pamela.
Post minutes on an internal website so they are available to all employees.
Challenge 3: perform monthly inspections to identify hazards
Solution: inform JHSC members about hazards that may affect teleworkers. If the workplace is temporarily closed and no employees are on site, an inspection of the workplace may not be possible. However, the committee should document changes to their regular inspection schedule and conduct an inspection prior to the workplace re-opening, taking COVID risks and controls into consideration.
"It's important for the JHSC to be aware of potential hazards created due to the pandemic - such as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), violence, and mental health issues associated with working from home - and ways to control these hazards," says Pamela. Risk assessments/worker self-inspection of home offices should be carried out by the employer in consultation with the JHSC.
Challenge 4: ensure employees can voice concerns to JHSC members
Solution: have the JHSC hold virtual open-door meetings. Employees usually convey their health and safety concerns to the JHSC during workplace inspections or by approaching members in the workplace, says Pamela. For remote workers, however, some companies are giving employees the opportunity to share their concerns during 15-minute teleconferencing meetings once a month.
A group call could reach more employees, and is ideal for large and mid-sized companies that operate in different regions, says Pamela. "While employees must report hazards to a supervisor or management, who must investigate and take corrective action in accordance with the Internal Responsibility System (IRS), the JHSC may support the IRS by becoming involved in the process when the IRS is not working effectively. For example, during an open-door meeting an employee might talk about an MSD hazard or struggles with mental health that they may not have reported directly to their supervisor, or have reported but which have not been acted on.
Ensure employees know how to reach JHSC members by posting contact information on the internal website.
How we can help
View this webinar deck: Preventing COVID-19: What JHSCs can do
Check out these articles. Each includes links to related resources:
- 9 ways to power up your JHSC against COVID-19
- Working from Home Shouldn't Hurt
- Mental Health Challenges and COVID Wave 2
For COVID-related information and tools, visit WSPS' COVID-19 Hub, which offers these and many other resources:
- over 100 COVID-19 sector-specific health and safety guidance documents
- a template for developing a COVID-19 workplace safety plan