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NDP Government in Alberta Announces OHS Legislation Review

August 17, 2017

NDP Government in Alberta Announces OHS Legislation Review

On August 16, 2017, the NDP Government in Alberta announced that it is reviewing Alberta’s OHS legislation (Review).  This comes on the heels of similar reviews having been done on the Employment Standards Code and the Labour Relations Code, both of which resulted in many substantive changes that left employers unhappy.  See our previous article entitled Overhauling Alberta’s Workplace Laws: What Employers Need to Know about Bill 17.
The Review will be ongoing until October 16, 2017.  Stakeholders, including employers, can take the OHS review survey, review the Discussion Paper and send in written submissions until that date.  Dates and locations will also be announced in September for Stakeholder Discussions.
Workplaces in Alberta have evolved since the province’s OHS legislation was enacted in 1976. This is the first comprehensive review since the legislation was put in place.  The government has said that the purpose of the legislative review is to assess its alignment with modern workplace practices such as all-day working schedules, telecommuting, home offices, technological advancements, changing worker demographics, and different types of employment relationships.
The Review will focus on providing further clarity on worker and employer responsibilities and making them more consistent with other Canadian jurisdictions, increasing worker engagement in daily OHS practices, and building out illness and injury prevention in the legislation with a focus on improving safety across all sectors. The Review will include consultation with industry, OHS professionals, and the public. It is interesting to us that the role of prime contractor was not included in the summary given how important this role is for many construction and oil and gas industry employers.  However, it is identified in the Discussion Paper as an area of focus.  In any event, we intend to raise this issue during the course of the Review.
1. Responsibility
Two stated key considerations for the Review include how the internal responsibility system in Alberta’s OHS legislation can be strengthened, and how it can be rebalanced to prevent over-reliance on government enforcement of OHS in the workplace. Other issues for consideration address progressive, proportional and effective compliance tools and updating the relevance of the legislation.
Potential changes are:

  • expanding OHS officers powers to use Stop Work/Use Orders:
    • immediately following an incident for investigation purposes, and
    • work-site wide or at multiple worksites to avoid worker exposure to similar hazards (similar to British Columbia’s recently expanded powers);
  • clarifying incident reporting requirements;
  • expanding the parts of OHS legislation that can result in tickets being issued;
  • setting out expressly the OHS requirements for businesses operated out of homes; and
  • requiring employers to inform Alberta OHS (Minstry of Labour) of new businesses or projects.

The Alberta government appears to be coming to understand how increased alignment with other Canadian jurisdictions allows companies to operate in multiple provinces and territories more effectively (both from an operational and a cost basis).
2. Worker Engagement
These changes will apparently be centred on more expressly incorporating the government’s view of workers three key health and safety rights: the right to know about all workplace hazards and rights afforded to them by law, the right to participate in workplace health and safety decisions, and the right to refuse unusually dangerous work.
The stated aims of this part of the Review are:

  • ensuring Alberta workers have the same rights as workers in other Canadian jurisdictions;
  • improving worker protection against reprisal for acting in compliance with OHS legislation;
  • fostering greater worker participation in OHS through Alberta Labour, WCB, industry, labour organizations, and employers; and
  • making worker training more accessible, meaningful, and useful.

Changes may include:

  • increased awareness and training for workers and employers;
  • expanded worker participation through joint worksite health and safety committees (currently very few Alberta workplaces are required to have these committees);
  • collaboration with workers in identifying OHS tools and controls; and
  • greater worker ownership and influence in the development of OHS processes and systems in the workplace as a way of increasing legislative compliance.

The stated goal of this Review is to improve OHS compliance by greater worker OHS participation and protections for workers as a means of promoting both awareness and a culture of healthy and safe workplaces provincially.
3. Prevention
The stated aim of the prevention part of the Review is to create the more comprehensive use of information, programs and partnerships between government, industry, workers, WCB, and health and safety associations to improve OHS in the province.
This section of the Review will focus on:

  • increasing the effectiveness of various Alberta Labour illness and injury prevention programs and resources;
  • considering the need for new programs and resources;
  • improving province-wide prevention activities and the roles of Alberta Labour, employers, workers, WCB, and health and safety associations;
  • improving health and safety training for inexperienced, vulnerable, and young workers;
  • improving workplace health and safety behaviour and perceptions; and
  • integrating the COR/PIR program and health and safety associations into overall occupational illness and injury prevention activities.

Changes may include:

  • implementing increased data gathering on education methods used in the workplace;
  • new requirements for improved program delivery and uptake of OHS among stakeholders;
  • requiring the coordination and sharing of relevant information to enhance prevention provincially (including on post-incident corrective actions presumably); and
  • streamlining reporting requirements to improve information accuracy and decrease OHS administrative burden.

This Review could very well mean that employers and workers will have even more responsibilities and accountabilities in the workplace.  This would almost certainly require changes to existing safety programs if employers want to have a due diligence defence that they can rely on in the event of a serious workplace incident.
If you have questions regarding the impact of these changes, or steps you can take to reduce their impact, please do not hesitate to contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer in our Alberta office.
PDF available here.

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