Alert: Changes Brewing in SK for OHS Laws & Workers’ Comp

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You’re probably well aware that Ontario is in the middle of reforming its OHS system. But it’s not alone. Saskatchewan just conducted its own regular review of the OHS laws and their administration. On Dec. 13, 2011, the Saskatchewan government introduced proposed amendments to the OHS laws in response to the results of this review. Here’s a look at the proposed changes.

THE PROPOSED LAW

The Review: The Occupational Health and Safety Council (Council) is a nine-member body, which advises the Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety (Minister) on OHS matters. Secs. 74 and 75 of the OHS Act describe the Council’s responsibilities, including undertaking a review of the OHS legislation and its administration at least every five years and providing a report to the Minister. The Council launched its most recent review in July 2011. In addition, in April, the Ministry asked approximately 200 stakeholders and 5,400 JHSCs for feedback on possible changes to the OHS laws.

The Law: In response to the results of the Council’s review and stakeholder feedback, the government introduced Bill 23. Highlights:

Supervisors. The bill would add a definition of “supervisor” to the OHS Act and spell out specific supervisor duties. Currently, Saskatchewan’s OHS Regulations define “supervisor” and include only a broad duty that supervisors must ensure that workers comply with the OHS laws. This new approach is similar to the other jurisdictions that have designated supervisor duties (BC, MB, NL, NT, NU, ON and YT). (For more on supervisor duties under the OHS laws, go to the Supervisor Compliance Center.)

Prime contractors. Bill 23 requires a “prime contractor” at certain multiple-employer worksites and spells out the duties of that prime contractor, including having a  written plan on how it’ll fulfill those duties.

Fines. If passed, Bill 23 will increase the maximum fines for OHS violations (based on type of violation). For example:

  • For non-serious offences: maximum fines would increase from $10,000 to $20,000 for first offences and $20,000 to $40,000 for subsequent offences;
  • For offences that could’ve but didn’t result in serious injuries or fatalities: maximum fines would increase from $50,000 to $100,000 for first offences and $100,000 to $200,000 for subsequent offences; and
  • For offences that resulted in fatalities or serious injuries: the maximum fine would increase from $300,000 to $1.5 million.

OHS officers. Bill 23 gives OHS officers the power to require employers to produce any records of OHS training they may have provided to their workers and to require anyone whom the officer has reasonable cause to believe has information on a work-related fatality, serious injury or harassment allegation to attend an interview and provide full and correct answers to any questions that the officer believes is necessary to ask.

Status: Bill 23 had its first reading on Dec. 13, 2011. So it still has a long way to go before it becomes law.

ANALYSIS

A review of Saskatchewan’s workers’ comp system was also recently done and the committee that did this review released its final report on Dec. 9, 2011. It includes 57 recommendations. Highlights:

  • Increase maximum benefit from $55,000 to $59,000 and implement annual increases over four years;
  • Put industry safety associations in charge of creating safety standards for their respective industries;
  • Have the WCB develop processes to minimize “moral hazards,” that is, the tendency for an event to occur with greater frequency because insurance or compensation exists to cover it. Example: An employer encourages an injured worker to use a disability program or not report an injury rather than filing a claim with the WCB;
  • Require the WCB to more actively and accurately monitor return-to-work programs; and
  • Have the WCB provide safety prevention training.

How do these recommendations and Bill 23 compare to the recommendations made by Ontario’s Dean Commission and Bill 160? There are some similarities but also some key differences. For example, in Ontario, responsibility for the prevention of workplace injuries and illnesses has been moved from the WSIB to the MOL; in SK, the WCB’s role in prevention has been kept and, in fact, strengthened. We’ll have to see which approach proves to be more successful.