Key steps for SME success

Learning and applying good health and safety strategies can help small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) create a workplace that’s as safe as possible. Use Export Development Canada’s (EDC) checklist below to get started or improve your current practices.

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Step 1 

Understand your responsibilities as an employer

Are you familiar with health and safety expectations and requirements that apply to your business?

  • There should be a clear, visible and active commitment to health and safety from the company’s leaders/management.
  • Check your compliance. At a minimum, your business should meet the health and safety laws and standards for all jurisdictions in which you do business (Canada: Provincial, territorial, federal; other countries).
  • Assess global expectations. It may be helpful to be familiar with ISO 45001. It’s the first and only international standard for occupational health and safety (OH&S) management, a result of agreed good practice from around the world. There’s a handbook to help SMEs get the most out of it. 



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Step 2 

Create a health and safety program

Has your company developed a plan of action designed to prevent incidents and occupational illness?

  • Engage your employees in workplace health and safety discussions. The best people to inform a health and safety program are your colleagues.
  • Identify workplace hazards specific to your business. For example, safety issues for a construction company will be different than for a food distributor. By understanding the risks, you’ll be better prepared to control or eliminate them. Consider your own operations and your supply chain.
  • Create a health and safety program. Key elements of a program include a health and safety policy, health and safety procedures, the responsibilities of managers and workers, and a communication system for how to report workplace incidents and illnesses. 



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Step 3 

Put your commitment into practice

Operationalizing your health and safety program and policy is a critical step—and requirement—to creating a healthy and safe environment.

  • Select a health and safety representative or committee. The size of your business dictates whether you require an individual or committee of employees.
  • Provide training to supervisors, workers and health and safety representatives on basic health and safety awareness, plus additional training to address job-specific hazards in the workplace. 
  • Develop written and visual materials that outline your program and commitment to workplace health and safety. These may include: 

* A health and safety manual 
* A health and safety at work poster 
* A copy of the health and safety act of your province or territory (or the Canada Labour Code for workplaces designated under federal jurisdiction 
* Your health and safety policy, workplace violence policy and workplace harassment policy 
* Emergency procedures/exit plans 
* First aid and first aid contacts  
* How to report incidents



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Step 4

Set goals and monitor progress

It’s nearly impossible to create a workplace that’s 100% safe with zero incidents. Your health and safety objectives should be to create a workplace that’s as safe as possible. Only you and your employees can determine what that looks like.

  • Establish specific health and safety goals for your workplace such as which hazards and risks you want to reduce.
  • Set a timeframe to reach your goals.
  • Monitor and measure your safety performance on a regular basis. Possible activities can include regular inspections and site audits of workplace safety programs, and materials and equipment to ensure they’re reliable, effective and meet your company’s safety goals and standards. Incorporate corrective actions. Review key performance indicators such as leading indicators and lagging indicators (% of employees trained, number of inspections vs. total recordable injury ratio). 


We recommend the following resources:



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Step 5

Educate and communicate

Is everyone within and outside your company aware of your health and safety efforts?

  • Educate your staff. Ensure they understand your health and safety program and how to fulfil their health and safety duties. 
  • Tell stakeholders. Promote your health and safety actions to your customers, partners and investors where appropriate. 


Also in this series

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Date modified: 2023-12-07