Beginner's Guide to Occupational Health and Safety (OHS)

Updated January 2023

The field of occupational health and safety (OHS) revolves around keeping people safe in the workplace.

OHS professionals focus on identifying and minimizing risks to people’s health, safety, and well-being. They inspect work sites, enforce health and safety legislation, and make sure employees and managers are following proper procedures.

They also develop policies, deliver training, and implement programs to promote a culture of safety and wellness.

Occupational health and safety is often associated with sectors like construction and manufacturing, but it has much broader applications. OHS professionals can be found in every industry.

Keep reading to learn what OHS is all about and what career options exist in this field.



WHAT IS Occupational health and safety?

Occupational health and safety is a discipline dedicated to preventing workplace-related injuries and illnesses. It covers everything from machine safety and air quality to ergonomics and harassment.

OHS professionals seek to remove or mitigate things in the workplace that could cause harm to workers. “Harm” can mean a physical injury or exposure to something that leads to the development of an illness or disease.

OHS addresses an enormous range of hazards, including:

  • Fire
  • Machinery, tools, and equipment
  • Noise
  • Radiation
  • Chemicals
  • Mould
  • Food contamination
  • Temperature extremes
  • Repetitive stress injuries
  • Heavy lifting
  • Slipping or falling
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Stress and poor mental health

According to the latest statistics from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada, there were more than 250,000 claims for lost work time due to injury in 2020—and more than 900 people died of work-related causes.

OHS professionals make it their mission to bring those numbers down.



In Canada, employers have a legal duty to provide a safe and healthy workplace for their employees.

Each province and territory has its own OHS legislation that applies to workplaces within its jurisdiction. These laws have slightly different names in each region. For example, Ontario has the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), while Manitoba has the Workplace Safety and Health Act. Separate legislation covers federally regulated workplaces, such as airports, banks, post offices, and telecommunications sites.

So what is the purpose of these OHS acts? They outline the duties of employers and employees and the rights and protections afforded to workers. They also describe enforcement measures that can be applied when managers or workers are not complying with regulations.

For instance, employers are responsible for training workers on how to safely operate machinery as well as when and how to use personal protective equipment to mitigate workplace hazards. They also have a duty to report all serious injuries to the appropriate government body, though the required timeframe for incident reporting varies between jurisdictions.

Employees are responsible for following safety protocols as directed and reporting any potential hazards or safety risks to their supervisor. They have the right to refuse unsafe work and can file complaints if they believe their OHS rights are being violated.

Failure to comply with OHS laws can result in fines, stop work orders, and even criminal charges in cases of serious neglect or misconduct. In Manitoba alone, OHS officers carry out roughly 5,000 health and safety inspections each year, half of which result in at least one order being issued.



Working in occupational health and safety means reducing or managing the risks workers face on the job. OHS professionals know how to spot potential hazards, develop safety programs and emergency response plans, and train and advise workers and managers on proper procedures.

Here are a few examples of the types of initiatives an OHS professional might implement:

  • Emergency evacuation plans
  • Machine lockout procedures
  • Hazardous material handling guidelines
  • Fall prevention measures
  • First aid training
  • Ergonomic workstation setups

Safety officer demonstrating the use of a fire extinguisher to group of warehouse workersOHS officers are responsible for showing workers how to properly use safety equipment

A career in OHS can also mean investigating complaints and accidents, enforcing government regulations, and shutting down businesses that don’t follow the rules.

Experienced OHS professional Andrew Pugachev says working in the OHS field means identifying hazards, developing risk control strategies, and ensuring compliance.

“OHS professionals make sure the company ‘walks the walk’ and ‘talks the talk.’ There are penalties for companies that don’t comply with government health and safety regulations.

Everyone within the organization is accountable to think and act safely: management, supervisors, lead hands, and workers.

Each one is subject to the proper training, education, and compliance—OHS professionals play a key role in this process.”



Occupational health and safety is a broad field that offers a number of career paths. Examples include:

Health and safety officer—Typical tasks in this entry-level role include inspecting workplaces, investigating accidents, documenting procedures, and delivering training programs.

Disability or claims management coordinator—In this role, you would manage the claims resulting from workplace incidents and facilitate injured employees’ return to work.

Health and safety manager—This leadership position involves developing the health and safety plan for an organization, supervising health and safety committees and officers, overseeing training, and continually recommending improvements.

OHS professionals are employed across all industries. They can work in:

  • Construction firms
  • Manufacturing plants
  • Factories
  • Hospitals
  • Educational institutions
  • Restaurants
  • Hotels
  • Water treatment plants
  • Government agencies
  • Safety auditing organizations



The role of occupational health and safety professionals is to create working environments that are physically and psychologically healthy for all.

Their daily responsibilities vary depending on their specific role and industry, but can include tasks like:

  • Conducting workplace inspections to ensure health and safety laws are being followed
  • Recommending fines or closures for companies that don’t comply with safety legislation
  • Monitoring working conditions and carrying out risk assessments to see where safety could be improved to avoid accidents
  • Developing safety training programs and delivering the training to workers and managers
  • Investigating accidents, injuries, or reports of unsafe conditions
  • Maintaining documentation like job hazard analyses, inspection reports, and safety literature
  • Coordinating injury management claims
  • Participating in emergency response planning
  • Developing a workplace health and wellness program
  • Updating an organization’s safety management system



Succeeding in this field requires more than a good grasp of legislation. OHS professionals also need to be adept at:

Risk assessment: You need to be able to identify things in the workplace that may cause harm, evaluate the severity and probability of the risk, and come up with appropriate control measures.

Communication: You will constantly find yourself explaining health and safety procedures and policies to employees and managers. Getting everyone on board with your recommendations is key, so it’s critical to listen to feedback, address concerns, and communicate clearly and effectively.

Leadership and problem solving: A big part of this job is analyzing situations, identifying problems, and developing creative solutions. You also need to inspire and motivate others to work safely.

Cultural sensitivity: You have to be able to connect with diverse groups of people and understand the cultural context of their workplace. You should be able to address cultural barriers to safety and develop programs that are inclusive and respectful of different backgrounds.



A career in occupational health and safety can generate a very good income.

According to the Government of Canada Job Bank, OHS professionals in Canada have a median salary of about $78,000.

The highest-earning OHS professionals in the country make over $118,000.



The Job Bank gives OHS specialists four out of five stars for job outlook and growth in many areas of Canada, including Ontario, Quebec, and the Prairie provinces. Demand should remain strong in these areas for the next few years.



You don’t have to spend years in university to become an occupational health and safety professional. An OHS diploma at the college level is enough to get started.

The Occupational Health and Safety diploma program at Herzing College runs for just 12 months and includes an internship at a local company.

The program is fully approved by the Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals (BCRSP).

Our students qualify for the BCRSP’s Canadian Registered Safety Technician (CRST) certification right after graduation. The CRST is an entry-level certification that’s recognized by employers all across the country.

Click below to get further details on Herzing’s OHS program and chat live with an admissions advisor. We’re here to help!

Explore the OHS Program in Toronto

Explore the OHS Program in Ottawa

Explore Our Online OHS Training

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