Recent Amendments to Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Code Bring Big Changes to Alberta Workplaces

Alberta’s new Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”), Occupational Health and Safety Regulation and Occupational Health and Safety Code (“Code”) take effect on June 1, 2018.

This blog provides a summary of some of the key changes to the Code relating to joint work site health and safety committees, health and safety representatives, harassment and violence. Employers can review all of the changes in more detail here.

Part 13 Joint Work Site Health and Safety Committees and Health and Safety Representatives

Establishment: The OHSA requires that employers with 20 or more workers with work expected to last 90 days or more must have a joint work site health and safety committee. Employers with 5 to 19 workers and work expected to last 90 days or more are required to have a health and safety representative.

Training: The Minister will designate organizations to provide committees and representatives with the required training.

Terms of reference: Each joint work site health and safety committee must establish terms of reference. The terms of reference will ensure that the committee’s membership provides appropriate representation of all relevant occupational health and safety concerns, establishes a process for replacing a member of the committee, a dispute resolution process, as well as a process for coordinating with other joint work site health and safety committees established by the employer or prime contractor.

Additional duties: The committee is required to inspect each work site at least once before each quarterly meeting to identify any health and safety hazards.

Duties of Employers, Contractors and Prime Contractors: The employer, contractor and prime contractor must consult and cooperate with committees and representatives to develop policies, procedures and codes of practice; provide committees and representatives with reasonable opportunity to inform workers on matters affecting occupational health and safety; ensure committees and representatives are allowed to examine records, policies, plans, procedures, codes of practice, reports or manufacturer specifications that must be maintained under the OHSA, regulations and the Code; and, distribute to all committees and representatives any information or documents addressed to the committees and representatives as soon as reasonably practicable after the information or document is received by the employer, contractor or prime contractor.

Part 27 Violence and Harassment

The OHSA imposes a positive duty on employers and supervisors to ensure that no workers are subject to or participate in harassment or violence at the work site. The new definitions of “violence” and “harassment” address physical, psychological and social well-being, including sexual and domestic violence.

Hazard Assessment: Employers are required to conduct a violence hazard assessment to identify potential hazards prior to work beginning. Employers must prepare a report of the results of the assessment that includes the methods used to control or eliminate any violence and harassment hazards. The hazard assessment must be repeated at reasonably practicable intervals to prevent the development of unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, when a new work process is introduced, when a work process or operation changes, or before the construction of significant additions or alterations to a work site. Employers must inform any affected workers of the hazards identified in the report and the methods used to control or eliminate the hazards.

Violence and harassment prevention plan: Employers are required to develop violence and harassment prevention plans that include policies and procedures, in consultation with their health and safety committee or health and safety representative, or affected workers if a committee or representative is not required.

Violence prevention policies: The violence prevention policies must include the following: statements that the employer is committed to eliminating violence; that the employer will investigate any incidents of violence and take corrective action; that the employer will maintain confidentiality except where necessary to investigate the incident or as required by law; that the employer will disclose only the minimum amount of personal information necessary to inform workers of a threat of violence or potential violence; and, that the violence prevention policy is not intended to discourage workers from exercising their rights pursuant to any other law.

Violence prevention procedures: The violence prevention procedures must include the following: measures the employer will take to eliminate, reduce or control workplace violence; information about the nature and extent of the hazards of violence, and the procedures to be followed when disclosing such information; measures for giving workers assistance in the event of a violent incident; procedures for reporting violent incidents; procedures the employer will follow when documenting and investigating violent incidents, and implementing any measures to eliminate or control workplace violence that have been identified as a result of the investigation; and, the procedures the employer will follow when informing the parties involved in an incident of violence of the results of the investigation and any corrective action to be taken.

Domestic violence: Employers have the obligation to take reasonable precautions to protect workers from domestic violence in the workplace.

Harassment prevention policies: The harassment prevention policies must include the following: statements that the employer is committed to eliminating or, if that is not reasonably practicable, controlling the hazard of harassment; that the employer will investigate any incidents of harassment and take corrective action; that the employer will maintain confidentiality except where necessary to investigate the incident, take corrective action, inform the parties involved in the incident or as required by law; and, that the harassment prevention policy is not intended to discourage a worker from exercising rights pursuant to any other law, including the Alberta Human Rights Act.

Harassment prevention procedures:  The harassment prevention procedures must include the following: procedures to be followed by a worker when reporting harassment; procedures to be followed by the employer when documenting, investigating and preventing harassment; and,  procedures to be followed by the employer when informing the parties involved in an incident of harassment of the results of the investigation and any corrective action to be taken.

Review of plans: A review of the violence and harassment prevention plans must take place on the earlier of: following an incident of violence or harassment, upon recommendation by the joint work site health and safety committee or representative, or every 3 years.

Training standards: Employers are required to provide workers with violence and harassment prevention training. The training must encompass: the recognition of violence and harassment; the policies, procedures and workplace arrangements that the employer has developed and implemented for eliminating or controlling workplace violence and harassment; the appropriate response to violence and harassment, including how to obtain assistance; and, the procedures for reporting, investigating and documenting incidents of violence and harassment.

Treatment or referral: Employers must ensure that a worker reporting an injury or adverse symptom resulting from an incident of violence or harassment is advised to consult a health professional of the worker’s choice for treatment or referral.

Entitlement to pay: If a worker receives treatment for work related violence or harassment, the employer must ensure the worker does not lose pay or benefits when receiving treatment during regular work hours.

Investigation and reporting of incidents: Employers must investigate any incident of violence or harassment, and prepare an investigation report outlining the circumstances of the incident and the corrective action. Employers must retain the investigation report for at least 2 years after the incident, and ensure a copy of the report is readily available and provided to an Alberta OHS officer on request.

An Alberta OHS officer may also conduct an investigation of a violence or harassment incident. Every person present when an incident occurs or has information relating to the incident is required to cooperate with the officer.

If you have any questions with respect to implementing the changes to Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, Regulations or Code in your workplace, please contact any member of our Labour and Employment Group.

*prepared with the assistance of Danielle Douglas, articling student

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