During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever for Joint Occupational Health and Safety (JOHS) Committees to meet and discuss COVID-19-related health and safety issues they are dealing with in their workplace.
Your union has heard that some employers are telling JOHS committees to cancel or suspend their meetings until further notice. This violates the requirements of the Workers Compensation Act (WCA) and is unacceptable. JOHS committee meetings must continue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This bulletin provides information about JOHS committee requirements in your workplace. If these requirements are not being followed at your workplace, please immediately notify your supervisor, your steward and your local OHS rep.
What are the requirements of a Joint Occupational Health and Safety (JOHS) Committee?
The Workers Compensation Act (WCA) requires employers to establish a joint health and safety (JOHS) committee in all workplaces with 20 or more employees. In smaller workplaces (9-19 employees), a single worker health and safety representative must be chosen that has essentially the same duties and functions as a joint committee. The Act also says that joint committees must meet at least once a month. Some BCGEU collective agreements include requirements for committees and representatives that go beyond the minimum requirements of the Act.
Should JOHS committee meetings, or meetings with worker health and safety representatives, be cancelled or suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic?
No. JOHS committee meetings, or meetings with worker health and safety representatives, should not be cancelled or suspended. JOHS committees have a right to participate in the development of workplace prevention and response strategies dealing with the virus, and WorkSafeBC has confirmed that it expects JOHS committees to continue to meet in accordance with the requirements under the Act.
If your JOHS committee meetings have been cancelled or suspended, tell your supervisor, your steward and your local OHS rep that the meetings should be restarted. If meetings remain suspended, report this to the WorkSafeBC Prevention Line at 1-888-621-7233 (1-888-621-SAFE), and email firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know that you have called WorkSafeBC.
What should my JOHS committee or worker representative be doing in response to COVID-19?
JOHS committees or worker health and safety representatives should be meeting regularly and working with their employer to identify and find solutions to workplace health and safety concerns related to COVID-19. At this time, meetings may need to be held remotely for some or all participants.
Here's a few concrete things that joint committees or worker health and safety representatives can be doing during this crisis:
- Ask questions and raise concerns about exposure to the virus at work. For ideas, the Ontario's Workers' Health and Safety Centre has a useful COVID-19 checklist, and a list of questions for JOHS committees to ask is available from CUPE.
- Participate in a walk-through assessment of the workplace and/or work process(es) to identify potential areas of increased risk and priority action.
- Participate in reviewing, updating and/or developing an exposure control plan (ECP) for your workplace in light of COVID-19.
- Participate in any assessment or evaluation of personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Review your workplace's policies and procedures to ensure they are updated with the latest information on COVID-19.
- Make recommendations to your employer about how to keep workers safe from COVID-19. For guidance, WorkSafeBC offers both general and industry-specific information for employers to keep workers healthy and safe during this pandemic. Practical information for workplaces is also provided by the BC Centre for Disease Control and the Government of Canada.
- Remember to consider and make recommendations protecting workers' mental health. Resources on mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic are available from the B.C. government, the Canadian Mental Health Association, and the World Health Organization.
- Gather feedback from your coworkers about how prevention measures are working, and what their health and safety concerns are during the pandemic.
- Help to promote measures to prevent exposure to COVID-19 at your workplace.
- Provide feedback on the effectiveness of control measures implemented in your workplace.
- Participate in incident investigations related to COVID-19 exposure in your workplace.
What rights do workers have to participate in their workplace's response to COVID-19?
Workers continue to have the right to participate in their workplace's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes participation of the joint health and safety committee, or the worker health and safety representative, in the development of the workplace's exposure control plan, in the investigation of symptoms related to occupational exposure, and in workplace evaluations for determining appropriate personal protective equipment.