Occupational health and safety changes

An improved OHS system to better protect workers and ensure they have the same rights as other Canadians came into effect on June 1, 2018.

Overview

Every year, hardworking Albertans are killed or injured on the job. A strong health and safety workplace culture is essential to preventing work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths.

Alberta's updated Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act sets the minimum standards for workplace health and safety and outlines the roles and responsibilities of employers and workers.

The new OHS laws came into effect on June 1, 2018. These are the first significant updates in over 40 years.

Basic rights of workers

As of June 1, workers have three basic rights:

  • the right to refuse dangerous work
  • the right to know
  • the right to participate

Right to refuse dangerous work

Workers have the right to refuse dangerous work and are protected from reprisal for exercising this right:

  • workers must continue to be paid while a work refusal is being investigated
  • employers must ensure workers understand the hazards at the workplace, know what needs to be reported and have the support to exercise their right
  • employers must investigate the matter in cooperation with the joint worksite health and safety committee or health and safety representative, if applicable
  • employers cannot take or threaten discriminatory action against a worker for exercising their rights and duties under the legislation
  • other workers may be assigned to the work if they are advised of the refusal, reason for it and are made aware of their own right to refuse work after the employer determines there is not a risk

Right to know

Workers have the right to know of potential hazards and have access to basic health and safety information in the workplace:

  • all employers must inform workers about potential hazards
  • all worksite parties must ensure information on health and safety hazards is available onsite

Right to participate

Workers have the right to be:

  • involved in health and safety discussions
  • participate in health and safety committees

Resource:

Work site committees and violence prevention

Health and safety program

  • Employers with 20 or more workers at a work site must have a written health and safety program. The program must have 10 mandated elements and be reviewed every 3 years.
  • Employers with less than 20 employees at a work site must involve workers in hazard assessment and control.

Learn more: Health and safety program

Work site health and safety committees and representatives

Joint work site health and safety committees are important forums for workers to participate in OHS. They ensure supervisors and workers discuss health and safety issues in the workplace and work collaboratively to find ways to address them.

  • Larger employers (20 or more workers at a work site) must have a joint work site health and safety committee for work lasting 90 days or more.
  • Smaller employers (5-19 workers at a work site) must have a health and safety representative for work lasting 90 days or more.
  • An employer can use an alternative approach to meeting these requirements with approval from an OHS director.

Learn more: Health and safety committees and representatives

Harassment and violence

Harassment and violence in all forms, including domestic and sexual violence, are now defined as workplace hazards in Alberta's updated OHS Act.

Under the new rules, employers must develop workplace harassment and violence prevention plans and address incidents when they do occur.

Learn more: Workplace harassment and violence prevention plans

Roles and responsibilities

Obligations of work site parties

The OHS system is grounded on the principle that everyone in the workplace is responsible for health and safety in the workplace.

  • Employers are responsible for:
    • ensuring the health, safety and welfare of workers and the public
    • providing competent supervisors, training workers, and preventing violence and harassment
    • working with the joint work site health and safety committee or health and safety representative
  • Supervisors have legal responsibilities for OHS and be responsible for preventing violence and harassment.
  • Workers are responsible for protecting their own and others’ health and safety at work sites and refraining from violence and harassment.
  • Contractors are responsible for ensuring that work under their control does not endanger health and safety.
  • Prime contractors are required in construction, oil and gas work sites or any other projects that are designated by the OHS director. They would also have added responsibilities to ensure worker health and safety.
  • Owners of work sites are responsible for ensuring that property under their control does not endanger health and safety.
  • Suppliers must ensure their products are safe to use, and must include user instructions for all equipment, including leased equipment. They would also have to provide a notice when their product or equipment doesn’t comply with the law.
  • Service providers must ensure the services they provide comply with the laws, are provided by a competent person and do not create a hazard.
  • Self-employed persons have responsibilities to ensure they do not create a hazard to others and to comply with OHS laws.
  • Temporary staffing agencies must comply with OHS laws and ensure worker health and safety.

Resources:

Duties of the government

The roles, responsibilities and authorities of government for OHS have been clarified.

The government will:

  • be concerned with OHS generally and maintain reasonable standards to protect workplace health and safety
  • review the OHS Act every 5 years
  • publish a plan for the review of any OHS regulations and the OHS Code every 3 years
  • ensure OHS statistics are maintained and published

The minister:

  • must consult with workers and employers
  • can recommend changes to OHS legislation

New role for OHS Council

The OHS Council was replaced by the OHS Advisory Council, effective December 15, 2017.

Its function is to provide specialized advice to government.

Reporting, compliance and enforcement

Reporting incidents

The government must be notified when a serious injury, incident or fatality occurs to ensure an adequate investigation is conducted to prevent future occurrences.

  • Injuries resulting in a worker being admitted to hospital must be reported. This replaces the previous threshold of having to be in hospital for two days.
  • Employers must report "potentially serious" incidents. These are incidents that had potential to cause serious injury to a person, but did not.

Learn more: OHS complaints and incidents

Medical assessments

Medical assessment requirements have been updated to align modern care practices and how medical services are delivered.

  • Medical examinations ordered under the OHS Act can only happen with the worker’s consent. The workers’ wages, benefits and cost of the examination are the employer’s responsibility.
  • The list of physicians and health-care professionals required to report a person infected with, or suffering from, a notifiable occupational disease will be expanded.
  • The director of Medical Services has expanded access to medical information to prevent occupational illnesses and injuries.

Compliance and enforcement

Powers to conduct inspections and investigations, as well as compliance tools, have been expanded and updated.

  • The person who receives an order is required to:
    • report back to OHS on measures taken to remedy any infractions
    • provide a copy of the report to their joint worksite health and safety committee or health and safety representative, if they have one
    • post the report at the worksite
  • Officers can issue a stop-work order to an employer with multiple worksites.
  • When a stop-work or stop-use order is issued, workers will continue to be paid their normal pay and benefits.
  • Sale, rental, lease or transfer of equipment is prohibited in the event of a stop-use order.
  • Officers can only enter a private dwelling that is a worksite with the owner’s consent or a court warrant.
  • Suppliers are prohibited from supplying any substance or material that does not comply with the legislation.

Learn more: OHS compliance

Compliance with WHMIS 2015

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is a national communication system for hazardous materials in the workplace.

WHMIS insures that workers and employers have the information they need to work safely with hazardous products.

WHMIS 2015 replaces WHMIS 1988 and must be used in Alberta as of June 1, 2018.

Resources:

OHS approvals

Work site parties may use alternatives to strict compliance with OHS laws, such as different processes, equipment, standards or training. To use alternatives, parties must apply for an approval from an OHS director.

Approval process for workplace first aid training agency and course is currently being updated. For more information, see First aid training.

Resources:

Offences and penalties

The types of offences have been expanded (for example, to include not reporting a reportable injury or incident) and more options are available for creative sentencing.

  • Fines and penalties remain the same.
  • Creative sentencing requirements have been expanded by providing the court with additional powers to direct how penalties can be used and provide more oversight. These powers include:
    • directing offenders to pay into training regarding health and safety
    • research on preventative medicine
    • any creative remedy order the court felt appropriate

Appeals process overhauled

The OHS appeals processes has been modernized, streamlined and better aligned.

  • Certain types of OHS officer orders and decisions may be submitted to an OHS director for review. The director may:
    • confirm, vary or revoke the order or decision
    • issue a new order
    • refer the matter to the appeal body
  • The OHS director review will apply to:
    • refusals to do dangerous work
    • orders to remedy unhealthy or unsafe work conditions
    • stop-work orders/stop-use orders
  • Responsibility for other OHS appeals has been shifted to the Alberta Labour Relations Board to streamline processes and create efficiencies. These include:
    • discriminatory action complaints
    • cancellation of a licence
    • administrative penalties
  • The process for hearing appeals has been modified to align with current practices used by the Alberta Labour Relations Board.
  • Transitional appeal requirements have been added to allow for appeals submitted before changes to the act come into place.

Learn more:

Information collection and exchange

These changes provide more opportunities for government to acquire and share information to help with prevention efforts for workplace illness and injury.

  • Alberta Labour can share data with other government bodies, agencies and external organizations beyond the WCB-Alberta.
  • More information about employers will be published at regular intervals. Expanded information includes:
    • orders issued
    • tickets issued to employers (but not workers)
    • investigation reports completed by an officer
    • acceptances issued
    • approvals issued
  • WCB-funded health and safety associations are required to submit a report to government each year for review. Government may make recommendations on the effectiveness of the association’s OHS efforts.
  • Government can designate organizations and programs to promote OHS in Alberta.

Contact

To connect with OHS:

Phone: 780-415-8690 (Edmonton)
Toll free: 1-866-415-8690 
TTY: 780-427-9999 (Edmonton)
TTY: 1-800-232-7215

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