New Alberta Health and Safety Act

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Alberta recently announced that its new Occupational Health and Safety Act (the New Act) along with a new Occupational Health & Safety Code (the New Code) will come into force on December 1, 2021.

If they haven’t already, Alberta employers will want to start getting ready for the New Act, which changes everything from workplace accidents to health and safety committees to refusing work.

Health and Safety

Accidents

In addition to injuries and incidents, employers will have to report and investigate illnesses. However, an employer’s obligation to investigate an incident is 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. In particular, it eliminates requirements for determining the number of workers, and instead specifies that the threshold is based on the number of workers that are regularly employed. (Note: Regularly employed does not include workers who are not paid monetary compensation, such as volunteers.)

Other changes simplify certain requirements, while adding some new ones for Alberta employers. For example:

  • Selecting Committee Members: Employers will determine the number of committee members needed and the timeline for selecting them. If the workers/union (as applicable) do not select workers for the committee, then the employer must select the worker members.
  • Committee Procedures: Employers must ensure that committees develop terms of reference.
  • Committee Meetings: Adds a new requirement for committees to hold a special meeting (in addition to regular meetings) if requested to do so by an officer.
  • Training: Removes requirements to use an organization designated by the Minister for training, and for training to cover specific topics.

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.

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.Alberta Health and Safety

Supervisors will no longer be required to ensure their own competency or that workers under their supervision use all required hazard controls.

Posting

The New Act does not include requirements related to posting 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.

Refusing Work

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.

Reprisals

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, New 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.

Variances

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).

Enforcement

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.