On September 6, 2021, the Act to modernize the occupational health and safety regime (Bill 59) received Royal Assent after being passed by the Quebec National Assembly. This lengthy bill, introduced by Jean Boulet, Quebec's Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity (Minister), underwent a detailed examination over the course of seven months.
For decades, both unions and employers' associations had advocated for occupational health and safety reforms in Quebec. Bill 59 provides for a substantial overhaul of the Act respecting occupational health and safety (AOHS) and the Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases (AIAOD), which were adopted in 1979 and 1985, respectively. While both pieces of legislation have undergone numerous amendments over the years, neither had been considerably updated since their adoption.
As noted in a previous Blakes Bulletin, Bill 59 sets out new obligations for employers, as well as new rights for workers, including:
- The obligation for employers to establish an occupational health and safety committee, as well as to prepare and implement a prevention program for each establishment employing at least 20 workers in a given year;
- The obligation for employers to set out, every three years, the priorities for action as determined in their prevention program, as well as the follow-up measures implemented by the employer to eliminate and control the identified risks related to these priorities;
- The obligation for employers to create and maintain a register of the contaminants and dangerous substances, identified by regulation, that are present in the employer's establishments;
- The obligation for employers to take necessary measures to ensure the protection of a worker exposed to a situation of physical or psychological violence, including spousal or family violence, in the workplace. This obligation is now explicitly set out in the AOHS in paragraph 16 of section 51, which defines an employer's general obligations with respect to matters of occupational health and safety;
- As regards the right to reinstatement for workers who suffered an employment injury, Bill 59 provides for a presumption by which an employer may reinstate such a worker who once again becomes able to carry on their employment, an equivalent employment, or a suitable employment available with their employer, even after the expiry of the period for exercising their right to return to work. To rebut this presumption, an employer must prove the existence of undue hardship related to this reinstatement.
We also bring to your attention the following measures related to the adoption of Bill 59:
- The enactment of the Regulation respecting occupational diseases, which replaces Schedule I of the AIAOD and contains, among other things, a new list of diseases benefitting from the presumption of contraction of an occupational disease set out in section 29 of the AIAOD, as well as the applicable time limit for claims related to such diseases;
- The enactment of the Regulation respecting prevention mechanisms, which contains rules pertaining to prevention and worker participation programs. In this regard, Bill 59 extends the application of prevention and worker participation mechanisms to all sectors of activities according to the size of each establishment and their risk level. For example, employers must now prepare and implement a prevention program specific to each establishment employing at least 20 workers in a given year;
- The creation of a scientific committee on occupational diseases ("Comité scientifique sur les maladies professionnelles") whose mandate is to make recommendations regarding occupational diseases to the Minister or to the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST).
The provisions of Bill 59 that will likely have the greatest impact on employers, namely the obligations related to the creation of a prevention program and the establishment of an occupational health and safety committee, as well as the amendments to section 51 of the AOHS, are to come into effect in early 2022. Other provisions, including those related to the powers of the CNESST and the process for claiming and assessing an employment injury, are slated to come into effect in the fall of 2022.
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