It’s Sunday morning. You look around and see more people than normal in the pews. There are a lot of visitors today as family and friends join to celebrate a baptism. The Music Director is just about to play the opening chord for the first hymn when a shout is heard, “Fire!”. How would you respond? Who should respond?
As we start a new year and congregations are electing new board (council) members, reviewing health and safety procedures should be on every new board’s agenda. Congregations are employers and are legally obligated to meet provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act requirements for workers. Workers include rostered leaders, office staff, independent contract cleaning staff, paid musicians and anyone else who performs work or provides services for compensation on the premises.
Workers have three rights: 1) to know how to work safely; 2) to refuse unsafe work and, 3) to participate in creating a safe workplace. It’s not just about physical safety. Creating a safe work environment also includes having policies and procedures in place to address violence and harassment in the workplace.
Although requirements vary between provinces, some basic components for a safety program include:
• A Health and Safety Policy with an emergency evacuation plan.
• Having a copy of the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act available for employees. (Have a health and safety board.)
• Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy
• WHMIS training and MSDS sheets for all hazardous products used (may include household chemicals used for cleaning).
• First Aid Kit.
• When the number of employees exceed a specific limit (ex. five in Ontario), there are additional requirements, such as having a designated Health and Safety representative and monthly property inspections.
Here are the links to provincial Occupational Health & Safety Act information:
What could happen?
Where could it happen?
How can we reduce or eliminate the risk?
How can we manage it?
The internet is a great resource for tools and templates. (Check out the
United Church in Canada site. Special thanks to Bev Oag, Manager, Duty of Care for permission to use this site). Your property insurer can also provide helpful information including checklists. Copies of the policies used by the Synod Office are posted on the Synod’s website.
While we must comply with legislative requirements, creating a safe space for all who enter our church buildings is something we should want to do. Having a healthy and safe environment is the basis for creating a welcoming one.
Eastern Synod Vice Chair