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The New Occupational Health and Safety Act

This is the second installment of a two-part blog discussing sweeping changes to Alberta's workers' compensation and occupational health and safety legislation. Be sure to check out our previous post, which summarized significant amendments to the Alberta Workers' Compensation Act.

In this installment, we are highlighting five major changes to the occupational health and safety landscape resulting from the new Occupational Health and Safety Act (the new Act), which comes into force on royal proclamation (exact date yet to be announced). 

1. Employers duty to non-workers is narrowed

  • The new Act narrows the population of non-workers to whom employers owe a duty to ensure the health and safety to persons "whose health and safety may be materially affected by identifiable and controllable hazards originating from the work site."
  • This change provides clearer guidance to employers about the types of hazards against which they are required to protect non-workers.

2. Less prescriptive requirements for health and safety committees and programs

  • The new Act simplifies requirements around health and safety committees and health and safety representatives. In particular, it reduces and removes several prescriptive elements in the former legislation including:
    • specific committee/representative duties;
    • committee procedures;
    • record-keeping requirements; and
    • committee member/representative entitlements to specified hours of training for their role.
  • Similarly, while the new Act continues to require employers that employ 20 or more workers to establish and implement a health and safety program, the prescriptive elements of the program have been removed from the act.
  • These changes hint at more flexibility for employers.

3. Expansion of an employer’s duty to report and investigate workplace incidents

  • There are two notable changes to an employer's duty to report and investigate injuries, illnesses or incidents resulting in admission to hospital.
  • First, employers are now required to report and investigate injuries and illnesses where a worker is admitted, or there is a reason to believe they will be admitted, to hospital. This does not include treatment in an emergency room or urgent care facility.
  • Second, the new Act expressly requires employers to investigate near misses.

4. Refining a worker’s right to refuse dangerous work

  • The new Act introduces the concept of an "undue hazard" to clarify the circumstances in which workers may refuse dangerous work, and limits the right to refuse work to situations involving hazards that pose a serious and immediate threat to health and safety.
  • The new Act provides that employers may assign a worker who has refused work temporarily to other work assignments, and expressly provides that such temporary assignment is not disciplinary action if there is no loss in pay.
  • The new Act eliminates the express entitlement of a worker who refuses work to receive the same wages and benefits the worker would have received if she or he continued to work. This change should be read in conjunction with the employer's obligation not to take disciplinary action against a worker who asserts the right to refuse dangerous work under the new Act.
  • From a practical perspective, although the new Act eliminates the express requirement to continue to pay a worker at the same rate, it creates uncertainty as to the interplay between the new dangerous work refusal provisions, on the one hand, and the disciplinary action provisions, on the other hand.

5. Simplifying the variance process

  • The new Act makes it easier for employers operating in multiple Canadian jurisdictions to get a variance from the Director. As a result, employers are no longer burdened by the consultation and posting requirements. Further, the new Act puts in place a new process by which the Director can recognize an alternate standard allowing employers operating in several Canadian jurisdictions to adopt a single standard approach.

If you have any questions about the changes to the Alberta Workers' Compensation Act or the Occupational Health and Safety Act please contact Michelle Jones, Jennie Buchanan, or another member of the Labour, Employment & Human Rights Group

For more information on the upcoming changes to Alberta's occupational health and safety legislation, click here to watch Michelle and Jennie's on-demand webinar on the topic. 

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Lawson Lundell's Labour and Employment Law Blog provides updates on the most recent legal developments impacting the Canadian workplace and offers practical tips for employers. We cover a range of topics, including labour relations, employment law, collective bargaining, human rights, employment standards, employment equity, workers' compensation, business immigration, privacy, occupational health and safety and pensions and employee benefits. 

Legal Disclaimer: The information made available on this webpage is for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied on as such. Please contact our firm if you need legal advice or have questions about the content of this webpage. 

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