Changes to Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Code come into effect March 31, 2023. Employers need to be mindful of how these changes affect their organization and assess whether practices need to be changed or implemented to ensure compliance.
The Alberta Government is enacting changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Code ("OHS Code"), discussed below, to make it more accessible and easier to understand. This is the first time the OHS Code will be significantly updated since 2009. The changes invoke best practices, modern strategies and technologies and better align with other Canadian jurisdictions. While the changes being implemented focus on the eight parts of the OHS Code that required the most immediate updating, a three-year review plan is underway to decide which additional areas will be examined next to ensure that the OHS Code is kept current.
First Aid – Part 11
First-aid training providers will be required to update course names to align with the CSA National Standard. This is meant to harmonize workplace first aid requirements with the rest of Canada and provide flexibility with implementation. Valid first aiders under the previous rules only have to recertify once their current certificate expires, so there is not an immediate retraining requirement.
In addition, first-aid kits will be required to meet CSA Standard Z1220-17. Some contractors may require additional items in order for kits to meet the new standards, so employers must check the specifics of the new rules, so their worksites remain compliant once the changes take effect.
Managing Control of Hazardous Energy – Part 15
The key changes clarify work site party responsibilities to align with the OHS Act, streamlining the wording and removing duplication in requirements. This includes flexibility in cases where the equipment may need to remain in operation but can be made safe without turning it off. This will allow workers to continue to perform work on a machine while it is operating as long as the machine has been "otherwise made safe."
Noise Exposure – Part 16
The threshold for conducting a noise exposure assessment is being reduced from 85 decibels to 82 decibels to ensure noise is assessed before the occupational exposure limit is exceeded. Once the changes take effect, the noise exposure assessment will be required to be conducted in accordance with the updated CSA Standard Z107.56-18. There will also be a requirement to ensure workers are fit-tested for the hearing protection devices they use and wear.
Overhead Power Lines and Electrical Utility Workers – Parts 17 and 40
The requirement for employers to notify an overhead power line's owner before work is done or equipment is operated near it remains unchanged. However, the revised wording now clarifies that employers must notify the applicable "electric utility, rural electrification association, or industrial power producer." The previous wording did not reflect the fact that not all power lines are owned by electrical utilities.
The revised wording specifies that in addition to the employer, workers are also responsible for maintaining a safe limit of approach distances listed in Schedule 4 of the OHS Code when working near an overhead power line. This change was made in alignment with the OHS Act's stipulation that workers must take reasonable care to protect their health and safety.
Part 17 now omits the word "energized" when describing overhead power lines and related legislative requirements that apply to them. All overhead power lines must be assumed to be energized in accordance with the utility industry's standards.
Explosives – Part 33
There will now be consolidated requirements for blaster's certificates. Blaster's certificates will no longer expire after five years from the date it was issued. An Alberta OHS Director may still suspend or cancel a blaster's certificate but is not required to provide a written reason for doing so. If a blaster's certificate is suspended or cancelled, it will no longer result in the automatic suspension of all other blaster's certificates related to the work site. These updates are being made to reflect best practices, technical standards and to improve the overall wording of Part 33.
Mining – Part 36
Mine plans will now need to be updated at "reasonably practicable intervals." That responsibility falls to the employer to ensure they are reviewed and updated. In addition, excavation boundaries will be adjusted "to ensure safe distances are maintained" rather than previously prescribed distances of 10, 20 and 30 metres.
Oil and Gas Wells – Part 37
Most of these changes with respect to this section of the OHS Code involve removing duplication, streamlining or revising wording to improve clarity and intent.
One of the more substantive changes is that the prime contractor, or the employer if there is no prime contractor, must provide site-specific orientation to a worker before that worker comes onto the worksite for the first time. This orientation must include:
- site-specific hazards
- work procedures that must be followed
- hazard controls in place to protect workers
- required PPE
- an emergency response plan
- processes for reporting hazards
- site-specific processes for addressing undue hazards, work refusals and resolution, and
- any other matter required to ensure the health and safety of workers at the work site.
In addition, employers and suppliers must keep records of inspections and repairs for equipment. Suppliers will now be required to share information related to inspections and repairs of leased equipment with employers who lease the equipment.
These upcoming changes are meant to harmonize standards for certain types of PPE in Canada, provide flexibility in implementing some requirements in the workplace, remove duplication in requirements and better align with the OHS Act.
These areas include:
- Part 1 – Definitions and general application
- Part 3 – Specifications and certifications
- Part 5 – Confined spaces
- Part 6 – Cranes, hoists, and lifting devices
- Part 9 – Fall protection
- Part 18 – Personal protective equipment
- Part 39 – Tree care operations
- Part 41 – Work requiring rope access, and
- Part 23 – Scaffolds and temporary work platforms.
These upcoming changes to the OHS Code aim to better align with other jurisdictions, clarify work site party responsibilities and streamline provisions to focus on health and safety outcomes while modernizing the OHS Code to keep pace with advances in technology and work practices. It is critical to the health and safety of all that OHS requirements remain in line with modern work processes and equipment advancement. Employers should be mindful of these upcoming amendments and assess whether practices need to be changed or implemented to ensure compliance.
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.