Workers Health & Safety Centre

Alberta legislative overhaul to enhance worker safety

The New Democratic Party government of Alberta has introduced legislation designed to expand worker rights and employer duties aiming to create healthier and safer workplaces.  
The proposed changes in Bill 30—An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans, stem from the first major government review of the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS Act) since it was enacted in 1976. Workers, their representatives and others have long pressed for many of the changes set to become law if Bill 30 is passed, including stronger language around the right to refuse and right to participate.
“These long overdue occupational health and safety changes will put workers at the center of the workplace health and safety equation by building our OHS system on three fundamental worker rights: the right to know about workplace hazards; the right to participate in workplace health and safety programs and policies; and, the right to refuse unsafe work,” said Gil McGowan, president, Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).
Over the years, Alberta has fallen behind other jurisdictions, including Ontario, in providing basic health and safety rights and protections. For instance, Alberta is the only province without mandatory joint health and safety committees or representatives. Joint committees are only required when designated by the Minister of Labour.

Enhanced worker empowerment and protection

Bill 30 will change this, requiring employers to establish a joint work site health and safety committee at a workplace employing 20 or more workers or designate a worker-appointed representative in workplaces with 5 to 19 workers. This proposed legislation also spells out the many duties of the committee or representative including workplace inspections and the development and promotion of programs for education and information concerning health and safety. The employer will have additional obligations relating to the committee ranging from consulting and cooperating, to resolving health and safety concerns, to ensuring committee co-chairs or representatives are trained.
These amendments will also enshrine the right for workers to refuse dangerous work into law. At present, Alberta law requires workers to refuse dangerous work. This proposed shift from a worker duty to a worker right is intended to further shift the onus for safer, healthier work to employers, those with the power to implement change. “By creating a right to refuse, we are essentially making it so that the employer becomes more responsible,” explained Alberta Labour Minister Christina Gray (pictured above) at a news conference introducing Bill 30. The new law would also add a requirement for employers to continue to pay the refusing worker while an investigation is underway and also when a health and safety officer issues a stop work order.
“Not only will this encourage workers to step forward with health and safety concerns, but it will provide incentives for employers to quickly address the problem,” said AFL President McGowan.
Employers will also have expanded duties to report workplace injuries and near miss incidents. Recording “near misses” is an important leading indicator helping employers to meet their significant obligations in terms of identifying workplace hazards and implementing measures to protect workers’ health, safety and welfare.  
Changes would also strengthen protections related to workplace violence and harassment including prevention obligations for employers and supervisors. This includes domestic or sexual violence. Workers would also be required to refrain from causing or participating in harassing or violent activities.
Another key amendment would be the explicit requirement for employers to adequately train workers in all matters necessary to protect their health and safety before beginning work, performing new work, using any new equipment or is moved to another work area or site.

Broadening workers’ compensation coverage

Proposed changes to Alberta’s Workers Compensation Act included in Bill 30 would broaden coverage including the resolving of cases in favour of the worker where the “evidence in support of the opposite sides of an issue related to a claim for compensation is approximately equal.”
Further improvements would see an increase in time a worker has to appeal a decision from one year to two, the removal of the earnings cap, increased benefit for dependents in fatality cases, and enhanced benefit rights for young workers, learners and apprentices.
If passed, Bill 30 would also call for the establishment of a “Fair Practices Office” charged with offering independent advice, assistance and advocacy services to employers and to workers and their dependants to help navigate the compensation system.

Mandatory OHS legislative reviews

This new law will also mandate occupational health and safety reviews at least once every five years and the review committee would require equal representation of the interests of employers, workers and the general public.
Ontario completed a similar review of its health and safety system releasing the final report seven years ago. Many priority recommendations, intended to be implemented within one year, remain unaddressed including mandatory training for health and safety representatives in small workplaces and entry level training for construction workers.
As Ontario’s legally designated training centre specializing in occupational health and safety, the Workers Health & Safety Centre offers training for both these vulnerable groups. We also offer programs to help workplaces comply with a number of minimum training obligations ranging from GHS WHMIS and Working at Heights to Certification Training for joint health and safety committees. Our programs, however, have always been designed to go beyond just legal minimums and ensure real learning is achieved. With this, training participants will be better prepared to play a role in workplace prevention efforts.
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