Module 1 - You are responsible for health and safety

Roles and responsibilities

You are responsible for health and safety

Module 1.1 - Learning objectives

  • Know about the basic functions of management
  • Know about the organizational occupational health and safety performance
  • Know about the basic function of the internal responsibility system
  • Know about the benefits of a healthy and safe workplace
  • Know about basic health and safety systems and practices

Module 1.2 - Basic functions of management

Planning. Organizing. Leading. Controlling. These are the basic functions of all managers and supervisors and effective managers ensure that those under their supervision accomplish their work with both high levels of performance and satisfaction. Management is the focus of entire disciplines of study and while this workshop will not consider the topic in depth, it is important to understand and apply these basic functions to workplace health and safety.

PlanningSetting goals and objectives, which includes decisions on how to accomplish them.
OrganizingArranging tasks and resources (human, financial, etc.) that are required to perform the work.
LeadingInspiring and maximizing the abilities of those working on the project to perform according to the plan.
ControlingMonitoring and taking action to maintain the project on track.

These functions are closely related to the foundation of good health and safety management, which is based on a plan, do, check, and act cyclical process described later. As you progress through this workshop, keep in mind these functions of management and how they:

  • Apply to workplace health and safety;
  • Apply to your specific workplace;
  • Can be further integrated into your daily activities.

The content of this workshop is derived from the uOttawa occupational health and safety management system and the organizational health and safety program. 

Module 1.3 - Organizational performance

When it comes to occupational health and safety, almost everything is on the table for discussion. As you’ll recall from Worker Health and Safety Awareness, the right to know about hazards is a core, fundamental worker right. In fact, provincial agencies often require public disclosure of occupational health and safety performance. For example, the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development requires that field visit forms (including records of inspection and provincial orders to comply) are posted publicly in the workplace and that a copy be provided to the joint health and safety committee. These forms are posted on health and safety bulletin boards. An excerpt from the bottom of a field visit form is provided below. Additionally, court bulletins relevant to workplace health and safety are posted on the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development website.

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) also publishes global data on Ontario employers, including uOttawa. Through the Safety Check application, individuals can search Ontario workplace health and safety statistics by business name, business type, and/or business size. Safety Check includes data on the lost-time injury rate, allowed-claims-by-injury per year, along with other information. Data for uOttawa is available in full through the application, with the leading types of lost-time injuries displayed below.

Leading types of lost time injuries 2012-2019

Parts of body - Ankle(s)


Nature of injury - Sprains or strains


Source of injury - Stuctures (including walkways and floors)


Event - Fall on same level


Occupation - University professors and assistants

WSIB generated report for the University of Ottawa
Data source: Workplace Safety and Insurance Board 
Data maturity: As of March 31st, 2020, for all years displayed

Module 1.4 - Internal Responsibility System (IRS)

Let’s get this out of the way early. No, it’s not the Internal Revenue Service. 

You’ve probably heard – maybe even perpetuated – the notion that the faculty’s Health, Safety and Risk Manager (HSRM), the Joint Health and Safety Committee, the JHSC Inspector, the Office of the Chief Risk Officer (OCRO) or even the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development are responsible for health and safety at uOttawa. While you might score part marks in an exam from a generous marker, you’d be missing a large component of the workplace, not to mention the fundamental principle. The fact is, uOttawa is a community of tens of thousands of people and expecting a group of (maybe) 15 people to deal with all things related to health and safety is simply not reasonable nor achievable.

The actual answer to the question “who conducts occupational health and safety at uOttawa” is not the faculty HSRM, the Office of the Chief Risk Officer, nor the external regulatory body. The answer is internal to the workplace: that is, everyone does – and is responsible for – occupational health and safety. This concept is known as the internal responsibility system (IRS). In an organization the size of uOttawa, it simply will not work in any other manner. Here are some of the responsibilities for which all parties are responsible:

  • Identifying or reporting a hazard
  • Assessing a level of risk associated with that hazard
  • Establishing a program to control or mitigate the hazard
  • Monitoring the hazard or program

Everyone is responsible and not one person, service, or executive can accomplish this on their own. Everyone must be committed: it takes a team effort. It is much like the Gee Gees football team. The team plays together and cohesively in a system consisting of offensive, defensive, and special team plays. It is because of that system that they can compete and win games. Imagine if the team played with fewer players on the field, with only the quarterback or a receiver on the field. The opponent could very easily breakdown their system, which would result in a very unsuccessful season!

The internal responsibility system is similar – it’s a team effort and everyone must play their part within their scope of responsibility. The difference between our analogy here is the difference between losing a football game and sustaining a workplace injury, illness, or death.

Module 1.5 - Benefits of a healthy and safe workplace

A healthy and safe workplace is more than simply reducing injuries and illnesses. There are additional benefits to the University, thanks to everyone’s collective efforts as part of the internal responsibility system.

  • Organizational morale – Healthy and safe workers are happy, productive workers. Worker satisfaction is a critical factor in promoting safe work practices.

  • Financial – Obviously, a healthy and safe workplace saves money on repairs and compensation costs, but did you know that as part of provincial programs (e.g. the WSIB Health and Safety Excellence Program), the University may be entitled to rebates and financial incentives for positive health and safety performance? Additionally, the hidden (or indirect) costs of incidents can be substantially reduced by simply reducing the frequency and severity of workplace incidents, resulting in indirect (and often unseen) financial savings.
  • Competitive advantages – A safe (and happy) workplace helps to attract and retain the talent that allows the University to achieve its institutional mission.
  • Legal – Like most other organizations in Ontario, the University must meet minimum legal requirements. A healthy and safe workplace reduces regulatory charges, fines, orders, and civil litigation. Establishing due diligence (addressed later) is also critical to ensuring a healthy and safe workplace.
  • Recognition – There are recognition programs that identify and award organizations with certificates of recognition or certification attesting to the organization’s commitment and success in fostering workplace health and safety.
  • Corporate and social responsibility – An organization that has earned a reputation for healthy and safe work practices will reap further benefits in the general community.

Module 1.6 - Basic health and safety theories, systems, programs and practices

While this workshop is not intended to provide in-depth health, safety, and risk management training, some theoretical aspects are relevant to the University’s internal responsibility system.

The Accident Triangle

accident triangle

As a group, we have an opportunity to improve every day and we must not wait for (fortunately infrequent) major events to occur before taking action. Moreover, some historical studies have concluded that opportunities for improvement may be occurring far more frequently than we realize. For example, in 1969, a multi-industrial study concluded that for every serious or major injury, there are 10 minor injuries, 30 incidents of property damage, and 600 incidents (or near misses) with no visible injury or damage.

We must stress that rather than focussing on these exact numbers, we should concentrate on the ratio of incidents to major occurrences: i.e., single, major events are relatively infrequent. The more frequent and less severe incidents form the wider base at the bottom of the triangle, so must be the focus our workplace health and safety initiatives on this base to limit the potential of those more serious instances.

Management systems

If we go back to the general refreshers, you will recall that management is held most responsible for health and safety, with managers and supervisors acting on management’s behalf and workers following the policies and procedures established by management. When an incident occurs, there may be many theories about its cause. At uOttawa, the existence of an unsafe act or condition is considered a symptom of a management problem that requires identification, assessment, and analysis to determine the root cause so that the appropriate corrective action can be implemented. The appropriate link in the chain of internal responsibility (i.e., the immediate supervisor) must investigate in accordance with the established organizational process, namely the Supervisor Accident / Incident Investigation Program (PDF, 401Ko). Incidents that ultimately point to larger systematic issues must be raised to the appropriate level. For example:

RoleScope of responsibilityItems outside their responsibilities
Lab supervisorTheir labRaise to the next appropriate authority
Department chairpersonTheir departmentRaise to the next appropriate authority
Dean or directorTheir faculty/serviceRaise to the next appropriate authority
Vice presidentTheir entire unitRaise to the next appropriate authority

Everybody has a supervisor: Managers should escalate issues outside their scope up the scalar chain, which is a clear delineation of authority within the University. It is important that everyone “stays in their lane” and act within the scope of their responsibilities, not only in terms of day-to-day management of operations, but also in cases involving workplace health and safety.


Documentation follows a hierarchy:

  • Legislation – is the minimum standard for compliance.
  • Policy – is the highest organizational position and is generally a short statement approved by the organization’s executives or senior management. This is the goal of the organization.
  • Program – is the framework of the organizational response and generally provides the structure of the policy. This is “who” and “how” the organization achieves the policy.
  • Procedure – is the detailed instructions to meet the goals of the program. This is how the organization achieves a specific part of the program or policy.
  • Guideline – is the set of suggested practices to achieve components of the policy, program, or procedure.

All these elements form part of the occupational health and safety management system and must work together, with all parties actively participating.

Direct / indirect costs

The concept of the direct financial losses caused by a workplace injury or incident is simple: If someone is injured or away from work, there are probably medical and compensation costs associated with that event. However, the true cost of incidents include several hidden costs that may not be readily known or easy to measure. This is known as the iceberg theory: only so much of the iceberg is seen above the water line, with a much larger piece of the iceberg sitting below the water line.

For every dollar of (generally insured) direct costs (above the water line), there are between $5 and  $50 of (generally uninsured) costs. Further, there are additional, miscellaneous (generally uninsured) costs that are even lower in the water.

As you can see, an incident – no matter how minor it may seem – incurs costs. While those above-the-water costs are generally insured, the underlying costs associated with the incident means that it literally pays (or saves) money to maintain a healthy and safe workplace.