Canada: Bill 30: Alberta Proposes Major Shift In Workplace Health And Safety Laws

On November 27, 2017, Alberta's NDP government introduced Bill 30, An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans (the Bill). The Bill proposes to significantly amend the Workers' Compensation Act while it repeals and replaces the Occupational Health and Safety Act in its entirety.

The Bill's proposed key changes to the Workers' Compensation Act are as follows:

  1. establishment of a "Code of Rights and Conduct" which sets out the rights of workers and employers, obligations of the Workers' Compensation Board, procedures for making and handling complaints about breaches of the Code of Rights and Conduct, and consequences of and remedies for breaches;
  2. establishment of an independent "Fair Practices Office" to provide resources to and assist workers in respect of the Workers' Compensation system;
  3. elimination of the maximum insurable earnings cap of $98,700 per year;
  4. improved benefits for surviving dependents of workers who are killed on the job and the creation of a guaranteed fatality lump sum benefit of $90,772.20 (regardless of whether there are surviving dependents);
  5. improved benefits for young workers (under the age of 25 years at the date of the accident) who sustain long-term injuries resulting in a permanent clinical impairment of 50% or greater;
  6. improved retirement benefits for injured workers;
  7. extension of the time to appeal a decision from 1 to 2 years;
  8. availability for interim relief from the reviewing body while decisions are reviewed;
  9. workers claiming compensation and required to undergo a medical examination will now be able to select their own physician (currently, the Workers' Compensation Board selects the physician);
  10. creation of a new presumption in favour of the worker where the evidence in support of opposite sides of an issue relating to differences of medical opinions are approximately equal;
  11. enhanced coverage for workers in all occupations who suffer psychological injuries due to a traumatic incident at work, including post-traumatic stress; and
  12. new obligations for employers to continue health benefits for injured workers for up to one year after the injury occurs and rigid obligations to support the worker's return to work (short of undue hardship).

With respect to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the proposed key changes include:

  1. new workplace duties and obligations for service providers, owners, self-employed persons and temporary staffing agencies, and the clarification and expansion of the duties and obligations of employers, workers, suppliers, contractors and prime contractors;
  2. new obligations for employers and supervisors to ensure their employees are not subjected to nor participatory in harassment or violence at the work site, and corresponding obligations for workers to refrain from causing or participating in harassment or violence at the work site;
  3. the Occupational Health and Safety Act will now cover domestic workers, and by extension their employer(s);
  4. a new requirement to have a prime contractor at every construction and oil and gas work site, and all work sites designated by a OHS Director (currently, prime contractors are only required for a work site with two or more employers). The "person in control" of the work side must designate the prime contractor or else they will be deemed to be the prime contractor;
  5. a new requirement for employers to form joint work site health and safety committees where the employer has 20 or more workers with work expected to last 90 days or longer, or if the work site is designated by a Director. The requirement extends to prime contractors (or all employers and self-employed persons to coordinate between themselves) at work sites with multiple employers and self-employed persons with 20 or more workers and with work expected to last 90 days or longer. The joint work site health and safety committee will be responsible for helping to identify hazards, develop programs, make recommendations to the employer or prime contractor, inspect the work site and participate in investigations;
  6. a new requirement for employers to designate a health and safety representative where the employer has 5 – 19 workers with work expected to last 90 days or longer, or if the work site is designated by a Director. This requirement extends to prime contractors (or all employers and self-employed persons to coordinate between themselves) at work sites with multiple employers and self-employed persons with 5 – 19 workers with work expected to last 90 days or longer. The representative will have the same duties as the joint work site health and safety committee;
  7. a new right for workers to refuse to carry out dangerous work. A worker who refuses to carry out such work will continue to be paid while the employer investigates the situation or may be reassigned temporarily to alternative work (currently, workers have a duty to refuse to carry out dangerous work but do not get paid if they do);
  8. where stop work or stop use orders are issued, workers that are directly affected will now continue to receive wages and benefits (unless reassigned to alternative work) while the order is extant;
  9. a new obligation for prime contractors and employers to report near misses (incidents that have the potential to cause serious injury to a person at a work site) and injuries and incidents resulting in a worker being admitted to hospital (currently, reporting is only required if the worker is admitted to hospital for more than 2 days, and near misses have to be investigated but not reported);
  10. clarification and expansion of the powers of officers to inspect work sites and investigate incidents;
  11. reviews and appeals of orders or decisions now lie with either a Director of Inspection or the Labour Relations Board, depending on the order or decision appealed (currently, appeals lie to the Occupational Health and Safety Council);
  12. expansion of the court's ability to provide creative sentences in relation to convictions for offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, such as ordering payment for training programs, research programs or scholarships; and
  13. new reporting requirements for the Minister in respect of documents and information regarding employers, including statistics on injury claims and rates, lost time claims and rates, and fatalities; orders, administrative penalties and tickets issued; and investigation reports completed by officers.

It is anticipated that most of the changes to the Workers' Compensation Act will be effective as early as January 1, 2018, but others will come into force in April, September and December 2018. Most of the changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act will be effective June 1, 2018. Of final note, the Workers' Compensation Act changes include a provision requiring a legislative review before February 1, 2021 and thereafter at least once every five years.

We will continue to keep you apprised of these developments.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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