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November 16, 2020ByLoretta Bouwmeester
Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act passes first reading
Occupational health and safety legislation is once again under the microscope of the Alberta legislative assembly. (Rita Petcu/Adobe Stock)
What is old is not necessarily new again.
But changes to occupational health and safety legislation in Alberta are very likely coming (again!) and will be in force on Sept. 1, 2021.
Bill 47: Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act passed first reading on Nov. 5.
Since 1976, Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) has been amended 11 times, with the most substantial changes implemented in June 2018 under Alberta’s former New Democratic Party (NDP) government.
The United Conservative Party (UCP) has acted upon the public feedback it solicited over the summer about ways to protect workers, while reducing the administrative burden for business and employers — something that is fundamentally important for the viability of employer enterprises (and for their workers to have jobs).
The UCP changes are just as sweeping as the NDP’s, if not more so.
The review was a welcome process for Alberta employers who have experienced practical and administrative challenges working within the parameters of the current OHSA for more than two years.
The areas that have been changed align with the key areas that were reviewed, rectifying some of the main issues many employers have faced.
These are some of those key changes:
Most prescriptive requirements are removed, including with respect to training, size and who must be included (though employer representatives cannot outnumber workers). There is also flexibility to be added for multi-employer worksites, also in terms of the information that has to be provided.
Now, only information related to “worksite hazards, controls, work practices and procedures” has to be provided to committees and representatives (in addition to all workers), instead of all health and safety information.
JHSCs also are not required to carry out worksite inspections, but only to review the employer’s documentation related to inspections. Also key is that JHSCs clearly will not be required to be included in worksite investigations.
There are also no longer minimum hours of paid training that employers need to provide workers with, though meetings need to take place during the paid workday.
This returns to being a worker obligation, and based on undue hazards — which are hazards that pose a serious and immediate threat, instead of the broader “dangerous conditions.”
Instead of no discriminatory action being allowed against a worker, no disciplinary action can be taken for legitimate refusals. All that OH&S should look at is whether disciplinary action has been taken.
There will be a requirement to investigate — but not report — any incident that “had a likelihood of causing serious injury or illness” and where there is “reasonable cause to believe that corrective action may need to be taken to prevent recurrence.”
Given the nature of COVID-19 and reality of widespread community transmission, this is how we are currently recommending that most COVID-19 positive worker cases be handled.
Rightfully, these are no longer as prescriptive. All explicit requirements are removed, other than a program being required for a workplace with 20 or more (regularly) employed workers.
Stay tuned for further analysis on the final legislation, as it could still be amended before it is passed.
Loretta Bouwmeester is a partner with Mathews Dinsdale in Calgary and Vancouver.
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