Sweeping changes to Alberta's OHS legislation are set to come into effect following a comprehensive review by the Government (see previous article: "Alberta Announces Review of OHS Legilsation"). On June 1, 2018, the current OHS Act will be replaced by the new Occupational Health and Safety Act, SA 2017, c O-2.1. The new Act is a significantly expanded law that recognizes new rights, creates new obligations on workplace stakeholders and enhances enforcement. Many owners, employers and other work site parties will be required to take proactive steps to comply with the new legislation.
Highlights of the new OHS Act
- New work site parties and obligations. The new Act recognizes and imposes obligations on several work site parties that were not named in the old Act, including supervisors; self-employed persons; trainers, consultants and other "service providers"; and temporary staffing agencies. The new Act also includes express obligations for owners, who must ensure that the land, buildings or premises under their control are provided and maintained in a safe condition.
- Expanded rights for workers. The new Act formalizes workers' right to refuse unsafe work and protects them against a range of "discriminatory action" that is considerably wider than the disciplinary action prohibited under the old Act. Employers and supervisors are also obliged to ensure that none of their workers are subject to, or participate in, harassment or violence at the work site. "Harassment" includes even single instances of "objectionable or unwelcome conduct, comment, bullying or action" that the perpetrator knows or ought reasonably to know will offend or humiliate the worker, or adversely affects the worker's health and safety.
- Changes to the prime contractor requirement. Under the new Act, the prime contractor requirement only applies to construction and oil and gas work sites or to designated sites or types of sites that have 2 or more employers or self-employed persons, or 1 or more of both. Where no prime contractor is designated, the prime contractor responsibility will default to the "person in control of the work site", rather than to the owner as under the old Act. The prime contractor's obligations are expanded and described in considerably more detail than under the old Act.
- Joint Work Site Health and Safety Committees. JWHSCs will now be mandatory on all work sites having 20 or more workers and where work is expected to last 90 days or more. Where 5 to 19 workers are present, the work site must have a designated health and safety representative, who has similar powers and duties to a JWHSC. Establishing the JWHSC and training its members is the responsibility of the prime contractor, or where there is no prime contractor, of all employers and self-employed persons at the work site. JWHSCs will work with employers to identify and remedy health and safety issues, and will have the power to refer such issues to an OHS officer if they cannot be resolved. They will also be responsible for recording health and safety concerns and complaints, and for assisting with the development and promotion of educational and informational health and safety programs, among other duties. Workers are entitled to time off with pay for their participation in the JWHSC.
- Health and safety programs. Employers that employ 20 or more workers will be required to establish, in consultation with the JWHSC, and implement a health and safety program having the minimum requirements specified in the new Act. Employers employing fewer than 20 workers will not be required to establish such a program, but will be required to involve workers and the health and safety representative, if applicable in hazard assessment, control and elimination.
- Additional incident reporting requirements. Under the new Act, an injury or accident to a worker resulting in any hospital admission as an inpatient, must be reported to the regulator by the employer. The latter does not include workers being assessed in an emergency room or urgent care centre without being admitted to hospital. Employers will also now be required to report an "unusual incident" or "unexpected event" that could have the potential of causing serious injury to a worker. Mines and mine sites are singled out for additional incident reporting requirements, including out-of-control vehicles, emergency conditions necessitating the withdrawal of workers, and any apparent weakening or subsidence of dams or dikes.
- Inspection, investigation and enforcement. The new Act gives OHS officers broader and more explicit powers of inspection, and permits the issuance of stop work orders in a wider range of situations. Stop work orders may now pertain to more than one work site, or to all of an employer's work sites; and any workers directly affected by the order are entitled to continuation of their wages and benefits for the duration of the order, although the employer may reassign them to alternate work. Ticketing, orders, administrative penalties, and prosecution all remain available under the new Act, and the list of offences has been extended. Maximum penalties for offences have not increased, but the new Act provides greater scope for "creative sentencing" by removing some of the old Act's restrictions on payments to research, educational or training programs in lieu of fines.