Small Business

Small businesses represent over 80% of business owners in the province of Ontario.

What is a Small Business?


Small businesses are defined as employers who employ less than 50 workers. Small businesses represent over 80% of business owners in the province of Ontario. Small businesses are unique in that they are more limited in terms of time and resources than larger employers. Due to this, they may need assistance in meeting basic legal requirements for occupational health and safety. In fact, many small business owners may not be aware that they have legal obligations.

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How does the OHSA affect your Small Business?


The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) does not differentiate between small businesses and larger ones. The law requires workplaces with 20 or more regularly employed workers to have a Joint Health & Safety Committee (JHSC) and at least one worker member and one management worker of the JHSC must be certified. Certification involves training in health and safety law as well as the identification, assessment and control of workplace hazards. Workplaces with more than five workers must have a designated health and safety representative.


Some small business owners incorrectly believe health and safety legislation does not apply to them; for example, owners that opt out of WSIB coverage make an assumption that they can also opt out of the OHSA. However, these are two separate pieces of legislation.


Other owners may have read in the Act that a workplace with five or fewer regular employees does not need to prepare a written health and safety policy. However, the Act indicates that if there’s a critical injury or fatality, or even a visit from a Ministry of Labour (MOL) inspector, the business owner would still be required to demonstrate and document that people are working safely, and that a disciplinary process is ready to implement. See S.6 of the Act: “Duties of Employers and Other Persons.”

What You Can Do


As a small business, you need to keep your health and safety processes simple and informal through management walkabouts, quick staff meetings, a handwritten memo to file, notes in a log book—all viable strategies if inspectors ask if you’ve been meeting your legal obligations. You can implement other effective, yet uncomplicated ways to communicate with staff and keep your business safe and healthy:


  • Conduct regular “quick talks” on health and safety with staff, using your safe operating procedures, checklists or MSDS sheets as topic guides
  • Make health and safety part of your everyday operations
  • Perform regular “safety observation checks” by watching an employee work for two minutes, reinforcing what was done well, and coaching on improvements
  • Ask staff, who often see what managers don’t, to identify hazards
  • Ask a staff member to volunteer as a health and safety champion

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small business resource manual

Small Business Resource Manual


If you are an organization with fewer than 20 employees, whether you have WSIB coverage or private insurance, the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Regulations apply to you. PSHSA offers training and resources, including the Small Business Resource Manual, to help you understand and satisfy your legislated responsibilities, while creating a safe environment for your employees.


This booklet is designed to make health and safety as easy as possible. PSHSA offers you a simple step-by-step process, including an easy to follow action checklist to help you to set up and maintain a basic health and safety program.


Healthy Workers


The majority of small businesses in Ontario are focused on workforce development and technologies. Small businesses with 50 employees or less (fewer than 17%) receive government support for employee training, compared to 25% of large firms. Overall Ontario small business owners feel “underserved” and it is difficult for them to make significant commitments to investments. PSHSA has developed free resources that help workers learn now to balance Work, Personal and Family life. These can act as support for Ontario small businesses and their employees to ensure optimal health and safety at work.


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