Is Your Organization Ready for Alberta’s New Occupational Health and Safety Laws?

A number of changes to Alberta’s occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation came into effect on December 1, 2021. We wrote about some of these changes in November 2020 when they were first introduced through Bill 47, the Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act, 2020. The purposes behind these legislative changes, as stated by the current Alberta Government, include making OHS laws easier to understand, supporting investment attraction and job creation.

We highlight some of the key changes to Alberta’s OHS legislative regime that have now taken effect below.

Health and safety committees and representatives

  • Removing mandate for health and safety committees and representatives to be present on work sites with multiple employers and a prime contractor. The prime contractor at such sites assumes responsibility for co-ordinating health and safety issues between workers and employers.
  • Basing the method for determining whether an employer requires a health and safety committee or representative on the number of workers “regularly employed” and excluding volunteers from this method.
  • Moving the technical requirements for health and safety committees and representatives from the Occupational Health and Safety Act to the Occupational Health and Safety Code.
  • Removing some of the strict training requirements for health and safety committee members and representatives, allowing employers more flexibility over training content.

Supervisor obligations

  • Removing the explicit requirement for supervisors to ensure that they are competent to supervise workers under their supervision; however, it remains an employer’s obligation to ensure that supervisors are competent.

Health and safety programs

  • Removing the mandatory elements for health and safety programs, allowing employers more flexibility when developing such programs.

Disciplinary action complaints

  • Referring to complaints relating to a worker experiencing disciplinary action or threat of action for complying with OHS laws as “disciplinary action complaints” rather than “discriminatory action complaints,” to avoid confusion with human rights law.
  • Providing OHS Officers option to refuse to investigate a disciplinary action complaint where the officer is of the opinion that the complaint is without merit.
  • Requiring OHS Officers to refuse to accept a disciplinary action complaint made by a worker bound by a collective agreement, meaning unionized workers must pursue such complaints through their collective agreement grievance process.
  • Implementing a 180 day time limit between the time of the alleged disciplinary action and the filing of the disciplinary action complaint.

Dangerous work refusals

  • Changing the terminology used in the OHS legislation relating to the right to refuse work. Workers now have the right to refuse dangerous work where there is an “undue hazard”, meaning a hazard that poses a “serious and immediate threat” to the health and safety of a person. Under the former legislation, workers were able to refuse work where there was a “dangerous condition at the work site” or where work constituted a “danger” to a person’s health and safety.
  • Adjusting and streamlining the process for responding to dangerous work refusals under the new OHS legislation.

Serious illnesses

  • Capturing reporting requirements for serious “injuries, illnesses and incidents,” in new OHS legislation whereas the old legislation referred only to injuries and incidents.
  • Removing many of the specific types of serious incidents that must be reported under the legislation and replacing them with more general language used to describe serious incidents that must be reported.

Self-employed persons

  • Considering self-employed persons as “employers” under the new OHS legislation and not “workers,” meaning employer obligations under the legislation also apply to self-employed persons.

The list above captures most of the major legislative changes that employers should be aware of at a high level, with additional detail available through the Government of Alberta’s website. Provincially-regulated employers in Alberta should be mindful of these OHS legislative changes and the potentially significant effect they may have on your workplace. Please contact a member of our Labour and Employment team if you would like to discuss the specific details of these changes and their potential impacts.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.