Alberta’s New OHS Act: What You Need to Know
Albertan legislators were busy right into the holidays and released a new OHS act in December 2021. Don’t worry, there weren’t many drastic changes, but we’ll summarize the ones employers and employees should be aware of. The act thankfully was simplified and much of the repetitive requirements were axed. Basically, they rolled out clearer language and implemented changes to sites with multiple contractors.
The new Alberta OHS Act is easier to follow, yet still maintains its core goals. The required safety and worker rights remain the same, but compliance is simpler for companies. As you might expect, the new OHS Act still prioritizes the three basic rights of workers:
- The right to be informed about hazards in the workplace
- The right to participate in health and safety
- The right to refuse dangerous work
Since the new OHS Act has eliminated repetition, it’s much shorter than the previous version. Likewise, the language has been changed to prevent confusion with other regulations.
The new OHS Act has also absorbed the Radiation Protection Act, which means it now includes radiation equipment laws. Dosimetry, or personal exposure monitoring for ionizing radiation can now be found within the OHS act. Again, cutting confusion and simplifying OHS legislation.
In addition, the requirements for health and safety committees (HSC) and representatives (HSR) are organized better:
- The OHS Act contains the enabling provisions for HSCs and HSRs.
- The OHS Code contains the technical rules for HSCs and HSRs, and this includes training requirements.
Changes for Health and Safety Committees and Representatives
Health and safety committees and representatives are still mandatory for employers under the new Alberta OHS Act, depending on their number of workers. Like in the previous version, an HSC is mandatory for organizations with at least 20 employees, while an HSR is mandatory for organizations with 5 to 19 employees.
However, there is an important change in how employees are counted. In the new OHS Act, only regular employees count when deciding if you need an HSC or HSR. In other words, the new calculation doesn’t include volunteers, and persons who don’t receive financial compensation in general.
The training requirements for committees have also become more flexible, which means companies can adapt the training process according to the needs of their workplace. Training requirements only apply for co-chairs and representatives in the case of farms and ranches, but they apply for all committee members in other types of organizations.
- Albertan employers are no longer required to complete their HSC/HSR training with government-approved courses and providers.
- Instead, they must follow the training guidelines provided in the OHS Code.
Managing Health and Safety in Workplaces with Multiple Employers
Alberta’s new OHS Act also changes the requirements for H&S committees and representatives in workplaces with multiple employers. Below we’ve compiled some of the most important changes:
- If the workplace has a prime contractor who coordinates multiple employers, the Act no longer requires a specific HSC or HSR for the site. Instead, the prime contractor chooses a person to coordinate health and safety from their subcontractors and workers.
- If the worksite has at least 20 workers and no prime contractor, establishing an HSC is still mandatory.
- Note that these changes don’t eliminate the requirement for individual employers to have their own HSC or HSR (based on the number of employees).
If there is no prime contractor, the person who controls the site can appoint one under the new OHS Act. This cuts the requirement to have an HSC or HSR, and employees can communicate with the internal committee or representative of each subcontractor. However, OHS directors still have the authority to request a dedicated HSC or HSR, even in worksites that would be exempt. More on prime contractors roles and duties.
Another important change is that the previous OHS Act only recognized prime contractors in the two industry sectors where they are mandatory: oil and gas, and construction. Under the new OHS Act, prime contractors can be established in any worksite regardless of the industry. The prime contractor becomes responsible for managing health and safety, avoiding the need for a dedicated committee or representative.
Additional Changes in Alberta’s New OHS Act
The new OHS Act introduced by Alberta is strongly focused on H&S committees and representatives. However, there are changes that affect other areas, including:
- Written health and safety programs are still mandatory for companies with at least 20 employees, but their requirements have been made more flexible.
- Potentially serious injuries are now defined more clearly, and their reporting procedure has been simplified.
- The new Act also simplifies the procedure for handling dangerous work refusals.
- Several requirements for the mining industry have been moved to the OHS Code.