Trades & Construction, You Need a Health and Safety Program. Here’s Why

Think small businesses don’t need health and safety programs? Think again. Not only is it important to protect yourself, your employees and anyone on your worksite from injury, one accident can spell the end of your business and a lifetime of debt: Depending on your jurisdiction, an injury on a work site could cost you $25,000 in fines. If you’re incorporated and fined in the province of Ontario (Canada), that number rises to $500,000.

Here’s why your small business needs a health and safety program—and how you can implement one.

Why Does Your Small Business Need a Health and Safety Program?

Most large companies have stringent health and safety programs to protect their workers and customers from injury, but smaller businesses sometimes struggle to define and implement programs. Common reasons include uncertainty about what’s legally required in their jurisdiction, inertia about creating a program for only a handful of people and the belief that they already work safely and don’t need a formal program.

One of the roles of CSA Group, an international organization that works with businesses and code authorities to create safety certification standards, is to provide health and safety standards that companies in a variety of industries—and of all sizes—can use. CSA’s network of steering committees from numerous sectors provide expert input into the health and safety standards they create.

“Through our committees, we try to create standards with small- and medium-sized businesses in mind using the expertise and systems that bigger companies have developed. We look at how we can apply those big objectives to make them practical for other types of companies,” said Dave Shanahan, CSA Occupational Health and Safety Standards Project Manager.

Beyond the peace of mind that a safety program can provide, you’ll also signal to your employees and your customers that you care about their wellbeing—and impress on customers and suppliers that you’re a conscientious business person who believes in doing the right thing.

“[A safety program] also addresses points of liability… it shows that you’ve covered all the bases, have done your due diligence; it can help prevent you from being sued,” said Shanahan.

Implementing a Health and Safety Program: Where to Start

The first step to creating a safety program for your business is identifying the risks involved in the work you do.

“We always say to take a look at the nature of your business, how you interface with suppliers and customers and the type of work you’re doing,” said Shanahan. “We call that a planned review. Your health and safety concerns should come from this process of identifying hazards and assessing risks.”

For Canadian small businesses, CSA provides the CSA Z1000 occupational health and safety management standard that can help you make these assessments and then make plans to address any training or risk management required as a result of your findings. The standard is available for free as a view-only document and can also be downloaded and purchased to customize it for your business. When you buy the standard, you’ll receive automatic updates, technical support and the ability to affix your logo to procedural standards that you can use in the field as a checklist.

“We encourage small- and medium-sized companies to use the Z1000 forms as templates to create their own documentation and modify them to fit their particular needs. Being CSA-certified helps inspectors, customers and suppliers recognize that you are taking proper safety precautions.”

Another helpful resource is Workplace Safety & Prevention Services, which produces Getting Started On Safety: A Roadmap For Your Small Business. It’s designed to help small businesses in Ontario know their obligations and provides information on how to develop their own programs.

For American businesses, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) offers similar standards and services. The Z10 standard is similar to CSA’s Z1000.

Another proactive way to begin is to research the health and safety regulations in your jurisdiction to ensure you’re complying with all health and safety and labor laws. For example, in Ontario, employers are required to provide Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) training and up-to-date safety data sheets for all employees. Visit the appropriate provincial/state and federal websites to find information about what’s required in your area.

What Should Your Health and Safety Policy Include?

Your health and safety policy defines your approach to safety in your workplace. It can be as concise as a one-page document outlining your commitment to providing a healthy and safe workplace and following applicable laws. Or it can be more robust and include training programs/certifications required to work with you (e.g. Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System—WHMIS—if you use hazardous materials).

Your policy might also outline:

  • Where to find a fully-stocked first-aid kit
  • Hazardous materials on-site
  • Protective equipment required for certain tasks
  • Safety training required for all contractors

If you’ve followed a template like CSA’s or ASSE’s, you should include that in your policy in case you are inspected. “Regulatory officials would recognize CSA standards. If your health and safety program follows the same principles of Z1000, you’ve pretty much got the bases covered for any province in Canada,” said Shanahan.

Still not sure how to create a health and safety program? There are training courses that can help you. CSA offers a one-day or online course and WSPS offers a number of training courses for a variety of sectors. CSA’s online Communities of Interest is also a great way to get access to a number of free materials and discussion spaces to connect with other small businesses on the issue.

Tips On Staying Safe with Your Health and Safety Program

Your health and safety program doesn’t end when you create a policy and establish a program. You’ll need to be vigilant to be on top of safety every day. The good news is that it may already be second nature—if not, it can become that way quickly.

Here are some additional obligations to consider:

  • Keep records of injuries or close calls so you can tailor your health and safety program to the actual hazards experienced on the job
  • Document all training courses you and any employees take; if you need to be re-certified annually, add that to your calendar to make sure it happens
  • Update your health and safety policy and program once or twice a year to ensure they remain relevant
  • If there are hazards you can control (i.e. storage of hazardous materials, slippery or uneven floors) to prevent an accident, take steps to do that and record it in your health and safety program
  • Report any injuries or accidents to the appropriate authorities. There are liability and insurance implications for you and your employees. You can be fined or penalized for failing to report a workplace accident.

about the author

Freelance Contributor Heather Hudson is an accomplished freelance writer and journalist based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publishing, corporate and agency clients who depend on her to deliver high-quality, on-brand content and journalism with a fresh perspective. Learn more about her work at