Late last year, Bill 23, an Act to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act, was introduced in Saskatchewan. On May 8, 2012, the Bill was debated by the Standing Committee on Human Services and now appears ready to receive its third reading and proceed to be proclaimed into force. The Bill has introduced some significant changes to the Act which will impact employers, owners, and contractors as well as newly defined supervisors and prime contractors.

The proposed changes and extensive additions to Part II of the Act, “Duties”, are especially of note. Previously, Part II outlined general duties of employers, workers and self-employed persons, contractors, owners and suppliers. Upon the proposed amendments coming into force the Act will now include more duties for those previously listed as well as new obligations for supervisors and prime contractors.

Proposed section 6.1 is lengthy and outlines extensive new duties of a prime contractor. Owners beware, all worksites must have a prime contractor in any situation where there are two or more employers on the worksite at the same time. Further, a prime contractor must agree with the owner, in writing, to be a prime contractor. In the absence of an agreement, the owner is automatically the prime contractor.

This new section is aimed at ensuring there is a single person or entity responsible for coordinating the entire worksite. As such, the prime contractor is required to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that all employers and self-employed persons have adequate and appropriate policies, procedures, safe work practices and equipment, as well as competent workers. Further, the prime contractor must properly inform itself in order to ensure that employers comply with Act and Regulations, their activities do not put others health and safety at risk and that there is compliance with the policies, procedures and practices of the employer. This means that not only is the prime contractor responsible for ensuring proper policies are in place but it must actively ensure compliance, as far as possible.

The prime contractor must also prepare a written plan which outlines how the prime contractor will ensure its duties are met and identifies who will oversee the plan and who the various employer supervisors are. The plan must include contact information for the prime contractor and any of its supervisors. Remember, the proposed amendments to the Act also contain new duties for all supervisors.

All this places a great amount of responsibility on the prime contractor. The proposed amendments also provide that all employers, self-employed persons and suppliers must co-operate and comply with reasonable directions of the prime contractor. Presumably, if there was a failure to co-operate or comply with the prime contractor this would be an offence under the Act and attract a penalty.

It is easy to see that these changes will require immediate attention upon coming into force. Given the overall goal of increased responsibility, and, in particular a new responsibility on a single entity for overall workplace safety it remains to be seen how the above amendments will change costs to owners and worksite structure and relations.

The new duties for prime contractors are only one example of the new and extensive duties which are included in the proposed amendments to the Act. Overall, the proposed amendments are aimed at increased responsibility and accountability for the health and safety of workers. These new duties are the legislature’s method of achieving this goal. Of course, these are only proposed amendments at this time and are not yet law.