Alberta Introduces New Health and Safety Act
In November, Alberta introduced a new Occupational Health and Safety Act (the New Act), which will replace the current Act in its entirety.
The New Act is scheduled to come into force on September 1, 2021. This means that Alberta employers will need to spend the first half of 2021 getting ready for the changes, which cover everything from workplace accidents to health and safety committees to refusing work.*
In addition to injuries and incidents, employers will have to report and investigate illnesses. However, an employer’s investigation obligations are narrowed to circumstances where:
- the incident is likely to cause a serious injury or illness; and
- it is reasonable to believe that corrective action may be needed to prevent recurrence.
Injuries and incidents that occurred before the New Act comes into force will continue to be governed by the current Act.
Committees & Representatives
The New Act simplifies the process for determining whether an employer meets the threshold for establishing a committee or designating a health and safety representative. It also removes many requirements altogether, including:
- reducing the list of committee/representative duties and listing no employer duties at all;
- removing many committee procedures set out in the current Act;
- removing record-keeping requirements related to health and safety committees;
- removing requirements entitling committee members/representatives to attend specified hours of training.
Duties of Employers & Supervisors
The New Act clarifies that an employer’s duty to ensure the health and safety of any other person at or near the worksite is limited to those who could be materially affected by identifiable and controllable worksite hazards. It also removes an employer’s requirement to cooperate with a health and safety committee or representative (as applicable).
While workers must still be adequately trained in all matters necessary to perform their work in a healthy and safe manner, the new Act removes the requirement to conduct training before performing a work activity, using new equipment/processes, or moving to another area or work site.
Supervisors will no longer be required to ensure their own competency or that workers under their supervision use all required hazard controls and personal protective equipment.
The New Act does not include requirements related to posting committee/representative information, compliance reports, and codes of practice. However, there are general requirements to ensure that any required reports, plans and procedures are in writing and a paper or downloaded or stored electronic copy of the report or plan is readily available for reference by workers and any committee/representative.
The New Act stipulates that workers may refuse to work if they believe there is an “undue hazard” at the work site or that the work constitutes an “undue hazard” to health and safety. An undue hazard includes a hazard that poses a serious and immediate threat to the health and safety of a person. Also, work refusals must not endanger the health of another person.
The New Act renames “discriminatory action” complaints to “disciplinary action” complaints. It specifies that persons cannot take disciplinary action against a worker because the worker acted in compliance with the New Act, regulations, OHS Code or an order issued under the New Act, but removes all of the other bases of employee protection in the current Act.
Complaints must be filed within 180 days. Further, the New Act adds new provisions specifying that officers:
- may refuse to investigate a complaint where the officer believes that the complaint is without merit, or is frivolous, trivial, vexatious, filed with improper motives or otherwise an abuse of process;
- must refuse to accept a complaint made by a unionized worker.
Orders to pay the worker equivalent wages and benefits will be subject to deduction for any wages/benefits earned if the worker worked elsewhere while the disciplinary action was in effect.
The New Act simplifies the process for accepting a variance from the Act’s requirements, including removing consulting and posting requirements. It also adds a new process for a Director to recognize an alternate standard, personal protective equipment or equipment that complies with the requirements in another Canadian jurisdiction (i.e., inter-jurisdictional recognition).
Under the New Act, fines are increased for knowingly making a false statement or giving false information to an officer or a police officer engaged in an inspection or an investigation.
Also, the New Act removes the following provisions related to orders:
- an officer’s authority to order employers to establish a health and safety program or code of practice or conduct regular inspections;
- the requirement to pay employees the same wages and benefits during a stop work/use order.
*It is not clear whether corresponding changes may be made to the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Code and/or the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, including adding certain requirements that have been removed from the New Act.