Examining OHS and workers’ compensation in non-profit organizations

In brief

  • While workers in non-profit organizations face a number of work-related hazards, this case study showed that provincial health and safety legislation across Canada is not always well-suited to this sector.
  • One issue is that key terms such as “worker” and “employee” are poorly defined in provincial/territorial legislative and workers’ compensation acts. These acts also exclude volunteers from coverage in some jurisdictions.

Published: January 2009

Why was this case study done?

Non-profit organizations are workplaces that pose unique health and safety challenges. Employees are often faced with workplace hazards including exposure to infectious disease, second-hand smoke and violence. While non-profits employ 1.3 million workers across Canada, many also rely on volunteers to help get their work done. Using a case study approach, the researcher sought to explore occupational health and safety legislation and workers’ compensation coverage of these workplaces across Canadian jurisdictions. Coverage for workers and volunteers was also explored.

How was the case study done?

The researcher reviewed the three territorial and 10 provincial occupational safety and health (OSH) acts and workers’ compensation acts. The criteria for coverage of workplaces, workers and volunteers was examined. In addition, definitions of key terms (including worker, employer, workplace, employee, volunteer) were reviewed. Who is covered and who is not covered were noted for each act.

What did the researcher find?

The definitions for the term “worker” were not clear. Most non-profits and paid employees had coverage under some territorial or provincial OSH acts, while coverage for volunteers was not always apparent. Further, coverage for OSH and workers’ compensation was not consistent across Canadian jurisdictions. Hence, workers may not understand their rights about hazard protection and compensation issues.

Coverage under territorial and provincial OSH acts: The OSH acts outline rights and responsibilities that employers and workers have in the workplace. None of the acts clearly stated that paid or voluntary workers in non-profits were covered. Four jurisdictions – Alberta, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Quebec – included volunteers. Ontario was the only jurisdiction that excluded volunteers from coverage.

Coverage under workers’ compensation acts: Coverage under a workers’ compensation act means that workers can be compensated if they are injured due to work. Coverage for non-profits, and subsequently workers and/or volunteers, was not consistent. In some jurisdictions, coverage existed for the majority of occupations and activities. In jurisdictions where exclusions and inclusions were specifically written into the acts, non-profit activities typically did not have mandatory coverage. Most provinces and territories allowed applications for optional coverage, yet it was unclear how many organizations without mandatory coverage chose this coverage, or if they carried private insurance plans that could provide benefits.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the case study?

The researcher conducted a thorough and extensive review of all occupational safety and health legislation and workers’ compensation acts across Canada. However, the researcher notes that future research should consider interviewing policy-makers to determine how the legislation is interpreted and carried out.