Law of the Month: Important Changes to Alberta’s OHS Act Take Effect
Ontario isn’t the only jurisdiction that’s made big changes to its OHS law recently. For example, Saskatchewan’s significant changes to its OHS law took effect Nov. 7, 2012. And in Alberta, Bill 6, the Protection and Compliance Statutes Amendment Act, 2012, received Royal Assent on Dec. 10, 2012. Most of the major changes Bill 6 makes to the OHS Act took effect on that date except those related to administrative penalties, which come into force upon proclamation. Here’s a look at the key changes and what they mean for employers in Alberta.
Bill 6 amends several different laws, including the OHS Act. It changes this safety law in six key areas:
Administrative penalties. The Department can now impose administrative penalties for OHS violations, with a maximum administrative penalty of $10,000 per violation per day. Administrative penalties may apply to an employer, worker, contractor, prime contractor or supplier. They’re seen as a middle ground compliance tool between issuing an order and prosecuting in court. (The administrative penalty changes haven’t taken effect yet and some details will need to be fleshed out in the regulations.)
OHS officers. OHS officers have the authority to ask people at a work site to identify themselves. In addition, employers are required to identify their workers to the officers on request. Anyone who interferes with an officer exercising his or her power under the Act is liable for an offence under the Act. It’s hoped that this change will help officers enforce compliance with OHS laws and the required health and safety rules of the workplace.
Prime contractors. Bill 6 clarifies the prime contractor requirement by explaining that a prime contractor is required at a work site whenever there are two or more employers whose activities have a health and safety impact on each other or are interrelated. Note that the two employers and their workers don’t have to be working at the site at the same time to meet the requirement. This change was made to prevent avoidance of the prime contractor requirements through the skillful scheduling of work.
OHS Council. Bill 6 gives the OHS Council the new duty of hearing administrative penalty appeals in addition to its current duties of hearing appeals to OHS orders, permit suspensions and cancellations, and safety-related disciplinary action complaints.
Creative sentences. Any outstanding amount of a creative sentence owing to a third party, such as a school or safety organization, as ordered by the court to be paid by a person under the OHS Act is now deemed to be a fine imposed on that person. Thus, the government can enforce payment of such fines under the Provincial Offences Procedure Act. (Creative sentences are a popular tool in Alberta. Here’s a look at when creative sentences are and aren’t appropriate for safety offences.)
Orders. Besides permitting personal service of OHS orders, Bill 6 now allows service of such orders by electronic methods, such as fax and email, in accordance with the regulation. And service on a person in apparent authority is now acceptable service on an employer. The change was necessary to update the prior service provisions, which created an administrative burden.
Why was Bill 6 enacted? Because as the Minister of the Environment said when he introduced the bill, “The great majority of employers and businesses in Alberta willingly and carefully comply with the rules that are in place, which govern their activities. However, there are some who repeatedly and chronically choose not to do so. The provisions of this act are aimed directly at them.”
To learn more about Bill 6, register for our March 20, 2013 webinar in which Alberta OHS lawyer David Myrol will walk you through these changes to the OHS Act in detail and discuss their implications for Alberta workplaces. (Attendance for OHS Insider Pro Members is free but you do need to register.)