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Changes to occupational health and safety laws of Alberta

Dec 8, 2021 | Alberta, Health and Safety, Workplace

New changes to occupational health and safety laws of Alberta took effect on December 1, 2021. The new act removed duplication and simplified the language to make OHS laws easier to understand. Here’s the overview of significant changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act and revised regulations:


Significant changes to Occupational Health and Safety Laws of Alberta


  1. Safety committees and representatives are not mandatory anymore

Unlike earlier, Health and safety committees and representatives are no longer mandatory on worksites with multiple employers and a prime contractor. Prime contractors must coordinate health and safety issues between employees and employees and designate a person to ensure cooperation between employers and employees. If there is no prime contractor, committees or representatives are still required on multiple-employer sites. 


  1. Calculating the number of workers for health and safety committee/representative purposes

The new OHS Act simplifies how the number of workers for a health and safety committee/representative is calculated. The calculation is based on the number of regularly employed employees. The new method more precisely represents employee numbers in normal conditions. This method excludes volunteers and those not being financially compensated from the calculation. The requirements of twenty or more workers for a committee and 5 to 19 workers for a representative remain the same.


  1. Technical rules for health and safety committees and representatives 

Technical requirements and rules for the committees and representatives have been moved from the act to the Occupational Health and Safety Code (OHS Code). The code is a regulation and is the proper place for technical requirements and rules. The act retains the overall enabling provisions for committees and representatives. The committee and representative rules in the OHS Code apply to eligible farms and ranches. Farms and ranches have modified training requirements for committees and representatives. Training is required for only committee co-chairs and representatives and not for committee members. Farms and ranches remain exempt from all other parts of the OHS Code.


  1. Training requirements for health and safety committee members and representatives

Employers and employees have more flexible options for training and it can be tailored to suit individual workplace needs. Training requirements are expanded to include committee members as well as committee co-chairs and representatives (except for farms and ranches). There is no longer a requirement for government-approved training courses or training providers. The training follows general guidelines in the OHS Code


  1. Health and safety program requirements

Employers and employees have more flexibility to develop programs that suit their workplace. The new OHS Act eliminates mandatory elements for programs. Employers with twenty or more regularly employed workers are still required to have a written health and safety program.


  1. Potentially serious injury reporting 

The new act clearly defines potentially serious incidents and the requirements for reporting them making it easier to understand. Information from potentially serious incident reports is used for information and education. It is only used for enforcement in situations where a serious, uncontrolled hazard is still present at a workplace.


  1. Disciplinary action complaints 

Discriminatory action complaints are renamed as “disciplinary action complaints” to avoid confusion with human rights laws. Where a collective agreement exists, complaints are addressed through the agreement’s grievance process rather than filing a complaint with Occupational Health and Safety. 

OHS officers have the authority to dismiss complaints with questionable merit before starting an investigation. A worker can request an OHS director review the officer’s decision. There is a 180-day time limit from the date of the alleged disciplinary action to file a complaint. The reverse onus provision for employers is retained. This means employers need to prove a disciplinary action is not related to a worker complying with OHS laws. 


  1. Dangerous work refusals

The process for dealing with dangerous work refusals is simpler, streamlined and easier to follow. Workers still have the right to refuse dangerous work without reprisals. The new OHS Act clearly defines an “undue hazard” that poses a serious and immediate danger to the worker or others on the worksite and that refusals are appropriate in those circumstances. 


  1. Adding radiation protection laws to the OHS Act 

The Radiation Protection Act and its regulations are incorporated into the OHS Act and OHS Code. This means these health and safety laws are in one place rather than multiple statutes. Alberta has an excellent radiation protection program and laws governing it remain intact. Changes are administrative ones such as removing duplication, updating wording to align with the OHS Act and transferring enforcement from third-party agencies to OHS officers.


  1. Acceptances, allowances and approvals

An acceptance enables a worksite party to take an alternative approach to a requirement in the OHS Code. Other OHS provisions allow or require persons to obtain approval in certain circumstances. The act simplifies the process for acceptances and approvals so these requests can be processed more quickly. Allowances are added to provide flexibility when it is clear that requirements lag behind advances in technology and processes. They permit an OHS director to allow alternatives that vary from the OHS Code if they do not reduce health and safety. An allowance may be granted to specific industries or all industries. 


  1. Prime Contractors

Prime contractors may be established on any multiemployer site, not just oil and gas or construction sites.


  1. Worksite party names

Self-employed people are now considered employers and have the same obligations for health and safety. Contractors are renamed “contracting employers.”


  1. OHS Directors

Former individual director designations, such as Director of Inspection, are replaced with “OHS director.” Director of Medical Services designation remains the same. OHS director review has been replaced by the authority to vary or rescind orders and administrative penalties.  


  1. Mining and mine sites 

Specific mining provisions move to the OHS Code from the OHS Act and OHS Regulation. The general requirements for reporting mine or mine site incidents remain in the act. 


  1. Injury reporting 

With the addition of radiation protection to the OHS Act, exposures to radiation in excess of its limits in the OHS Code must be reported to OHS. A work-related serious illness or an illness that results or is likely to result in admittance to a hospital is added to the injury reporting requirements.

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