In Dec. 2012, Bill 6, the Protection and Compliance Statutes Amendment Act, 2012, received Royal Assent in Alberta. Although some of changes made to the OHS laws by this bill took effect immediately, several key provisions just took effect on Oct. 1, 2013 and an additional change is set to take effect Jan. 1, 2014. Here’s a look at these important provisions and what they mean for Alberta workplaces.
3 KEY CHANGES
The following three changes could profoundly impact employers—as well as workers:
Administrative penalties. As of Oct. 1, 2013, administrative penalties can be imposed against any parties regulated by OHS law, including employers, contractors, suppliers, prime contractors and workers. Administrative penalties can be up to $10,000 per violation per day. The specific amount will be determined by OHS officials based on a variety of factors, including (but not limited to):
- Past health and safety performance;
- Frequency of orders, tickets or other compliance interventions; and
- Whether there appears to be an overall commitment to maintaining a proper OHS system in the workplace.
Parties hit with an administrative penalty can appeal it to the OHS Council. The government says that the goal of administrative penalties is to encourage improved compliance with OHS regulations and deter those who demonstrate a chronic disregard for health and safety in the workplace. (Read this brochure for FAQs about administrative penalties.)
OHS tickets. As of Jan. 1, 2014, OHS officers will be authorized to issue tickets to workers and employers for violations of designated ticketable provisions of the OHS laws, such as an employer’s failing to have a required code of practice or a worker’s failing to have a valid entry permit when entering a confined space. OHS tickets will be similar to traffic tickets—that is, they’re on-the-spot penalties given out following an infraction. Ticket fines will range from $100 to $500 and can be paid at any Alberta courthouse or contested. The idea behind OHS tickets is that they’re a compliance tool that will deliver an immediate consequence to workers or employers in instances where violations of specific OHS requirements are observed by an OHS officer, such as workers not wearing fall protection when required to do so. (Here’s a brochure of FAQs about OHS tickets.)
Unsafe work conditions. In addition, workers are now required to immediately report to their employer if they “believe an unsafe or harmful work site condition or act exists.” When workers make such a report, employers must “review the situation and take any necessary corrective action in a timely manner.” The change was made because the OHS regulation previously only required workers to report any unsafe equipment to their employer and there were no specific requirements for the employer to follow-up when a worker reported unsafe equipment. The change imposes greater responsibility on workers to report unsafe work conditions in general, not just unsafe equipment. And when workers make such reports, the employer must review the situation and take any necessary corrective action. (Of course, to exercise due diligence, an employer would have to assess and address any safety hazards brought to its attention regardless of this specific requirement in the law.)
Administrative penalties have been used for violations of environment law in many jurisdictions for quite awhile. OHS regulators in Alberta and other jurisdictions have just recently started to see the benefits of using such penalties and/or OHS tickets for safety violations. And it’s expected that other jurisdictions will likely jump on the bandwagon soon. For example, the Dean Panel’s report in Ontario recommended the use of both tickets and administrative penalties, although the government has not yet acted on this recommendation.
Note that other changes to Alberta’s OHS law also took effect on Oct. 1. For example, employers are now required to ensure that current or up-to-date paper or downloaded electronic copies of the OHS Act, Regulation and OHS Code are readily available to workers for reference. To learn more about all of the Bill 6 changes, watch a recording of our webinar in which Alberta OHS lawyer David Myrol discussed these changes to the OHS laws in detail and discussed their implications for Alberta workplaces.