Occupational health and safety changes

Albertans will see an improved OHS system that better protects workers and ensures they have the same rights as other Canadians.

Overview

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (the act) establishes the minimum standards for healthy and safe workplaces in Alberta. These laws are supported through the internal responsibility system and enforced through compliance activities.

Alberta has not done a comprehensive review of the OHS system since it was enacted in 1976. Much has changed since then.

A comprehensive review of the OHS system was concluded in fall 2017. We received more than 1,300 survey responses and nearly 90 written submissions from Albertans and more than 200 stakeholders participated in 8 roundtable discussions across the province. Feedback was used to inform proposed changes to the act.

Bill 30: An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans amends to the Occupational Health and Safety Act to better protect Albertans at work.

Most of the changes will come into effect June 1, 2018.

Basic rights of workers

The changes will enshrine the three basic rights of workers in Alberta's legislation:

  • The right to refuse unsafe work protects workers from any form of reprisal for exercising this right, including loss of compensation or benefits.
  • The right to know ensures workers are informed about potential hazards and have access to basic health and safety information in the workplace.
  • The right to participate ensures workers are involved in health and safety discussions, including participation in health and safety committees.

Responsibilities 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 would 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 would have would have legal responsibilities for OHS and be responsible for preventing violence and harassment.
  • Workers would be responsible for protecting their own and others’ health and safety at worksites and refraining from violence and harassment.
  • Contractors would be responsible for ensuring that work under their control does not endanger health and safety.
  • Prime contractors would 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 would be responsible for ensuring that property under their control does not endanger health and safety.
  • Suppliers would 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 would 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 would have responsibilities to ensure they do not create a hazard to others and to comply with OHS laws.
  • Temporary staffing agencies would have to comply with OHS laws and ensure worker health and safety.

Availability of information

Workers have the right to know of workplace health and safety hazards and employers have an obligation to provide this information. Changes to the act will:

  • enshrine a worker’s right to know about workplace hazards
  • require all worksite parties to ensure that information on health and safety hazards is provided onsite

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 unsafe 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

Changes will bring Alberta in line with the other provinces.

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

Right to refuse dangerous work

Workers have the right to refuse dangerous work and be protected from reprisal for exercising their rights and responsibilities under the legislation.

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 there is one.
  • Employers would not be able to take or threaten discriminatory action against a worker for exercising their rights and duties under the legislation.
  • Workers would continue to be paid their normal wages and benefits while a work refusal is being investigated.

Health and safety program

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

New role for OHS Council

The OHS Council will become an advisory council to provide specialized advice to government to better protect working Albertans.

Reporting serious injuries, incidents and fatalities

The government must be notified when a serious injuriy, incident or fatality occurs to ensure it’s adequately investigated to prevent future occurrences.

  • Threshold for reporting a serious injury would be changed to an injury that requires admission to hospital.
  • Employers will be required to report “near misses” (incidents that had the potential to cause a serious injury or incident).

Medical assessments

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

  • Medical examinations could only occur with the worker’s consent and would be considered time at work.
  • The list of health-care professionals who are required to report a notifiable occupational disease would be expanded.
  • The director of medical services would be provided more access to medical information to prevent occupational illnesses and injury.

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 would 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 would 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 would continue to be paid their normal pay and benefits.
  • Sale, rental, lease or transfer of equipment would be prohibited in the event of a stop-use order.
  • Officers would only be able to enter a private dwelling that is a worksite with the owner’s consent or a court warrant.
  • Suppliers would be prohibited from supplying any substance or material that does not comply with the legislation.

Appeals process overhauled

The OHS appeals processes require modernization, streamlining and better alignment.

  • Certain types of OHS officer orders and decisions could be submitted to an OHS director for review. The director could:
    • confirm, vary or revoke the order or decision
    • issue a new order
    • refer the matter to the appeal body
  • The OHS director review would 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 would be shifted to the Alberta Labour Relations Board to streamline processes and create efficiencies. These would include:
    • discriminatory action complaints
    • cancellation of a licence
    • administrative penalties
  • The process for hearing appeals would be modified to align with current practices used by the Alberta Labour Relations Board.
  • Transitional appeal requirements would be added to allow for appeals submitted before changes to the act come into place.

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

Information collection and exchange

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

  • Alberta Labour would be allowed to share data with other government bodies, agencies and external organizations beyond the WCB-Alberta.
  • More information about employers would be published at regular intervals. Expanded information would include:
    • 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 would be required to submit a report to government each year for review. Government could make recommendations on the effectiveness of the association’s OHS efforts.
  • Government would be able to designate organizations and programs to promote OHS in Alberta.

Duties of the government

Roles, responsibilities and authorities of government for OHS will be clearly articulated.

  • Government would be concerned with OHS generally and maintaining reasonable standards to protect workplace health and safety.
  • The OHS Act would have to be reviewed every 5 years.
  • A plan for the review of any OHS regulations and the OHS Code would be published every 3 years.
  • The minister must consult with workers and employers, and can recommend changes to OHS legislation.
  • Ensure OHS statistics are maintained and published.