[co-author: Madeleine Chauvet, Articling Student]
A new Occupational Health and Safety Act (New OHSA) will replace the existing occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation in Alberta effective December 1, 2021. This bulletin sets out some of the noteworthy changes to Alberta's OHS regime following the implementation of this legislation.
1. Flexibility for Multi-Employer Worksites
The New OHSA is likely to allow for more flexibility at multi-employer worksites, as health and safety committees and representatives will no longer be mandatory on worksites with multiple employers and a prime contractor. The prime contractor will be expected to coordinate health and safety obligations between employers and workers.
Prime contractors will remain a mandatory requirement at construction and oil and gas worksites, but the New OHSA defines these worksites to provide some clarification as to when prime contractors will and will not be required.
The prescriptive requirements for training set out under Alberta's OHS regime will be replaced with more general obligations under the New OHSA. Employers will now only have to ensure that workers are "adequately trained in all matters necessary to perform their work in a healthy and safe manner".
Although this new language provides employers with fewer prescriptive obligations with which to comply in respect of training, employers would be well advised to continue making training a priority as it is one of the best means of preventing workplace injuries and remaining compliant with OHS obligations.
3. Illness Reporting
In addition to injuries and incidents, employers will now be required to investigate and report work-related "illnesses" that cause death or where there is reason to believe the worker has been or will be admitted to a hospital beyond treatment in an emergency room or urgent care facility. We expect that the inclusion of this new term as part of the New OHSA was related, at least in part, to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
4. Disciplinary Action Complaints
Workers will still be able to pursue complaints against employers for perceived reprisals or violations of applicable OHS standards. The New OHSA has renamed these complaints as "disciplinary" complaints from "discriminatory complaints" to avoid confusion with human rights legislation. The reverse onus provision with respect to these complaints will be maintained under the New OHSA such that employers will still be required to show that any disciplinary action taken towards a worker is not related to the worker complying with the New OHSA.
Organizations should review these and other changes under the New OHSA and consider whether any changes to their current policies and practices are needed to comply with these new obligations once they come into force.