Occupational health and safety changes

An improved OHS system to better protect workers and ensure they have the same rights as other Canadians comes 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.

An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans was passed in December 2017 to update the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act and the workers' compensation (WCB) system. These are the first significant updates in over 40 years.

Alberta’s OHS Act sets the minimum standards for workplace health and safety and outlines the roles and responsibilities of employers and employees. New OHS laws come into effect on June 1, 2018.

When injuries do happen, a fair compensation system should support injured workers and help them get back to work. Improvements to the WCB system came into effect on January 1, 2018.

We're committed to working with employers and employees to make sure all Albertans have access to safe, fair and healthy workplaces.

Learn the new rules

Resources on specific changes to the OHS Act will be added as they're available. Please check back for updates.

Basic rights of workers

Starting June 1, new legislation will give workers 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:

Workplace health and safety

Health and safety program

Starting June 1, 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.

Resource:

  • Health and safety programs (coming in May)

Worksite health and safety committees and representatives

Joint worksite 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.

These committees will be responsible for:

  • inspecting the work site for hazards
  • helping employers respond to health and safety concerns of workers
  • helping resolve dangerous work refusals
  • helping develop health and safety policies and safe work procedures
  • helping with new employee health and safety orientation
  • developing and promoting education and training programs

Starting June 1:

  • larger employers (20 or more workers at a work site) will be required to have a joint worksite health and safety committee for work lasting 90 days or more
  • smaller employers (5-19 workers at a work site) will be required to 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

These changes will bring Alberta in line with other provinces and ensure our workers have the same rights and protections as other Canadians.

Please note: Only approved organizations may provide training for committee members and representatives. Training criteria and a list of approved providers is under development. Please check back for updates. Please be wary of organizations offering training before the criteria and provider list is available. Watch for information if you want to become an approved trainer.

Resources:

Harassment and violence

Employers and supervisors must ensure workers are not subject to nor participate in workplace harassment or violence.

The new rules:

  • define workplace harassment and violence in all forms, including domestic violence
  • require employers to investigate incidents of violence and harassment
  • require employers to develop separate violence and harassment prevention plans; these must be developed in consultation with joint work site health and safety committees or representatives
  • require review of plans at least once every three years
  • require employers to ensure workers receive training on preventing and responding to violence and harassment
  • protect workers from reprisals for reporting workplace violence or harassment; workers continue to receive wages and benefits while incidents are investigated
  • require employers to make workers aware of treatment options if harmed by violence or harassment; workers are entitled to wages and benefits while attending treatment programs

Resource:

  • Workplace harassment and violence (coming in May)

Roles and responsibilities

Obligations of worksite parties

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

  • Employers will be 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 worksite health and safety committee or health and safety representative
  • Supervisors will have legal responsibilities for OHS and be responsible for preventing violence and harassment.
  • Workers will be responsible for protecting their own and others’ health and safety at worksites and refraining from violence and harassment.
  • Contractors will be responsible for ensuring that work under their control does not endanger health and safety.
  • Prime contractors will be required in construction, oil and gas worksites 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 worksites will be responsible for ensuring that property under their control does not endanger health and safety.
  • Suppliers will have to 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 will have to ensure the services they provide comply with the laws, are provided by a competent person and do not create a hazard.
  • Self-employed persons will have responsibilities to ensure they do not create a hazard to others and to comply with OHS laws.
  • Temporary staffing agencies will have to comply with OHS laws and ensure worker health and safety.

Resources:

  • Worker's guide to the OHS Act (coming in May)
  • Employers guide to the OHS Act (coming in May)
  • When is a prime contractor required? (coming in May)

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.

Medical assessments

Starting June 1, medical assessment requirements will be 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 will have expanded access to medical information to prevent occupational illnesses and injuries.

Resource:

  • Medical assessments (coming in June)

Compliance and enforcement

Powers to conduct inspections and investigations, as well as compliance tools, will be expanded and updated.

  • The person who receives an order will be 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 will be able to 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 will be prohibited in the event of a stop-use order.
  • Officers will only be able to enter a private dwelling that is a worksite with the owner’s consent or a court warrant.
  • Suppliers will be prohibited from supplying any substance or material that does not comply with the legislation.

Resources:

Offences and penalties

The types of offences will be expanded (for example, to include not reporting a reportable injury or incident) and more options will be provided for creative sentencing.

  • Fines and penalties will remain the same.
  • Creative sentencing requirements will be expanded by providing the court with additional powers to direct how penalties could 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 will be 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 will 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.

Information collection and exchange

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

  • Alberta Labour will be allowed to 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 will be 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 will be able to designate organizations and programs to promote OHS in Alberta.