According to the most recent Labour Force Survey, 3.1 million Canadians were working from home temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic in February 2021. Overall, approximately four in ten (38.9%) Canadian workers are in jobs that can plausibly be carried out from home, and results from a recent Statistics Canada survey suggest that many Canadians will continue working from home once the pandemic is over.
Remote work is the “new normal” and it seems it is here to stay.
With this shift to remote work many employers may be left uncertain about how their joint workplace health and safety committees’ (JWHSC) or health and safety representatives’ (HSR) responsibilities have changed and what they should be.
“if employees/workers are working remotely do I still need a JWHSC or HSR?”
The short answer is “yes”. Though remote work offers many benefits, it also comes with a unique set of challenges. One of these challenges is ensuring the health and safety of remote employees. In Alberta JWHSC/HSR requirements are outlined in the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and apply even if your employees are working from home.
This means that if you are a provincial employer in Alberta, and if work is expected to last 90 days or more, you must:
Establish a JWHSC if you have 20 or more full or part-time workers
Designate an HSR if you have 5 to 19 full or part-time workers
Now you might be wondering: “are JWHSC and HSR responsibilities different in a remote workplace?”
Here the answer is “no”. The responsibility is the same, but the application and focus may be different. The role of your JWHSC and HSR is to help raise awareness of health and safety issues and help communicate them to the employer and employees.
Because remote work still has health and safety hazards and risks, it remains important to identify and control them.
The JWHSC and HSR needs to consider how their organization is currently operating and how changes in the way work is performed may impact workers’ health and safety.
Though the majority of your employees might work remotely, there may be instances when a worker will need to be at a worksite, so you need to ensure their location is safe and compliant.
If your organization has gone fully remote and no longer rents or owns a physical location, or if your workplace is closed, onsite inspections might not be possible. Employers still need to educate JWHSC members and HSRs on hazards that could affect remote employees. Employers need to involve their JWHSC/HSR to develop an inspection process for remote employees.
Remote, work from home hazards may include but are not limited to:
Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) due to poor ergonomics in home offices
Trips, slips, and falls
Mental health disorders associated with remote work
Employers should work with an ergonomics assessor and their JWHSC/HSR to develop self-inspection processes for home offices. Providing tools like workstation set-up checklists, mental health resources, and ergonomics training can help JWHSC members and employees create a healthier and more productive remote work environment (Alberta Bulletin – “Working from home during Covid”).
It is also worth noting that if, or when, you plan to reopen your workplace your JWHSC/HSR should perform a workplace inspection before reopening.
SafetyVantage/AASP currently offers Government Approved online JWHSC and HSR Training which can all be found here. You can also visit our NEW JHSCR Bundle here. If you are interested we suggest you check out our online courses as a way to easily train new JWHSC members or new HSRs and keep their training up to date in a safe and affordable online self paced, work from anywhere environment.