Significant changes to Alberta’s occupational health and safety (“OHS”) regime took effect on December 1, 2021.

On November 5, 2020, the Alberta Government introduced Bill 47, the Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act (“Bill 47”), which set out to repeal the previous version of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“FormerOHS Act”) and replace it with an updated version (“New OHS Act”). The New OHS Act is now in effect as of December 1, 2021 and is accompanied by revised versions of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation and the Occupation Health and Safety Code (“OHS Code”).

The changes brought by Bill 47 affect areas such as health and safety committees and programs, contractors, injury reporting, disciplinary action complaints, and dangerous work refusals. The following discussion highlights some of the notable changes.

Notable Changes

Health and Safety Committees

The New OHS Act substantially alters the joint health and safety committee (“JHSC”) and health and safety representative (“HSR”) regime. Particularly, the New OHS Act attempts to simplify the rules respecting the composition, responsibilities, and requirements of JHSCs and HSRs, including a simplified method for calculating the number of workers for the purposes of determining whether a JHSC or HSR is required, more freedom to dictate the form and function of JHSCs, less mandatory duties for JHSCs and HSRs, and more flexible training requirements.

Health Safety Programs

The New OHS Act removes all mandatory requirements for health and safety programs. While employers with 20 or more regularly employed workers are still required to have a written health and safety program, such programs are now generally defined as a “co‑ordinated system of procedures, processes and other measures that is designed to be implemented by organizations in order to promote continuous improvement in occupational health and safety”. This change provides employers with more flexibility to develop programs appropriate for their workplace.

Prime Contractors

JHSCs and HSRs are no longer required on multi-employer work sites with a prime contractor. Rather, the prime contractor must establish a system, as well as designate an individual, to ensure compliance with OHS laws and cooperation between the employer and workers on health and safety issues.

Self-Employed Persons

The New OHS Act defines self-employed persons as employers and imposes the obligations of employers onto self-employed persons, with necessary modifications.

Dangerous Work Refusal

The New OHS Act simplifies the profess for dealing with dangerous work refusals. Under the Former OHS Act, a worker could refuse work where the worker believed on reasonable grounds that there was a dangerous condition at the work site or that the work constituted a danger to the worker’s health and safety or to the health and safety of another worker or another person. The term “dangerous condition” was not defined by the Former OHS Act.

The New OHS Act sets out that a worker can only refuse potentially unsafe work where the worker believes on reasonable grounds that there is an undue hazard at the work site or that the work constitutes an undue hazard to the worker’s health and safety or to the health and safety of another person. The New OHS Act further clarifies this right by defining an “undue hazard” as a hazard that poses a serious and immediate threat to the health and safety of a person.

Injury Reporting

The New OHS Act imposes reporting requirements for illness and exposure to radiation which exceeds the maximum limits set out in the OHS Code. The New OHS Act also includes a minor change in what constitutes hospital admittance requiring reporting. The New OHS Act requires reporting where there has been an injury, illness, or incident in which there is reason to believe that a worker has been or will be admitted to a hospital, beyond treatment in an emergency room or urgent care facility. This differs from the Former OHS Act where a report had to be filed where the worker was admitted to hospital as an inpatient pursuant to admitting orders from a physician.

The New OHS Act no longer requires the reporting of a potential serious injury or incident (PSI). The New Act instead only requires that an investigation be undertaken where an incident occurs that: (1) had a likelihood of causing a serious injury or illness, and (2) there is reasonable cause to believe that corrective action may need to be taken to prevent recurrence.

Disciplinary Action Complaints

The New OHS Act renames “discriminatory action complaints” to “disciplinary action complaints” to avoid confusion with human rights law. With the respect to such complaints, the New OHS Act imposes a 180-day time limit from the date of the alleged disciplinary action to file a complaint. The New OHS Act also provides OHS officers with the authority to refuse to investigate a complaint where the officer is of the opinion that the complaint is without merit, or is frivolous, trivial, vexatious, filed with improper motives, or otherwise an abuse of process.

Conclusion

Further details and guidance regarding the legislative changes is available on the Government of Alberta website. Employers should carefully consider their policies and practices and assess whether any changes to their workplace are necessary to ensure compliance with the New OHS Act and the applicable regulations.