Recently, amendments were introduced to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS Act).1 The Alberta government has indicated that the purpose of the amendments were to clarify the OHS Act by eliminating duplication and simplifying its language. The Alberta OHS legislation changes will directly affect owners’ and prime contractors’ obligations under the act.
Under the OHS Act, an “owner” is the person who is registered as the owner of the land on which work is being carried out or the person who enters into an agreement with the owner to be responsible for meeting the owner’s obligations under the OHS Act.2 While the definition of “owner” has not been changed as a result of the amendments, owners’ obligations pursuant to the OHS Act have been expanded. In particular, owners are now obligated to “ensure, as far as it is reasonably practicable to do so, that the land, infrastructure and any building or premises (collectively, the Premises) on the land is provided and maintained in a manner that does not endanger the health and safety of workers or any other person.” This now applies regardless of whether or not the owner is in control of the Premises.3 This provides a greater level of responsibility than was previously required.
Under the OHS Act, the definition of “Prime Contractor” generally refers to the person in control of the work site or the person designated as the Prime Contractor by the person in control of the worksite.4 Following the amendments, Prime Contractors are still required on every multi-employer work site in the construction and oil and gas industries. However, the OHS Act now includes definitions of a “construction work site” and an “oil and gas work site” which provides some additional clarity.5
In addition, any multi-employer industry may voluntarily designate a Prime Contractor. Changes to the OHS Act were in response to implement flexibility as required at complex work sites with shifting activities and transient work site parties.6
The amendments to the OHS Act also impact the health and safety obligations for Prime Contractors at work sites. With these changes, the current OHS Act mandates that:
- Projects that have a Prime Contractor do not also require a joint health and safety committee (HSC) or a health and safety representative (HS). However, the Prime Contractor must designate a health and safety contact and the Prime Contractor must assume responsibility for the matters7 that would have been addressed by an HSC.8 The Prime Contractor must also designate a person to ensure cooperation between employers and workers. Note that this does not impact an employer’s obligation to have an HSC or HS.
- Multi-employer work sites that do not have a Prime Contractor:
- are required to have an HSC when they have 20 or more regularly employed workers or employees;9or
- are required to have an HS when they have 4-19 regularly employed workers.10
Health and safety programs and training
The changes to Alberta’s OHS legislation have also clarified obligations related to health and safety programs and training for health and safety committee members or representatives.
As far as health and safety programs, employers and workers will have more flexibility to develop programs that best suit their work place. The amendments to the OHS Act remove mandatory elements for the health and safety programs.
Similarly, as far as training, employers and workers will have more flexible options for training and it can be tailored to suit individual workplace needs. Training requirements are expanded to include committee members as well as committee co-chairs and representatives (except for farms and ranches). There is no longer a requirement for government approved training courses or training providers.
Potentially serious injury reporting
The amendments to the OHS Act have also clarified the obligations related to potentially serious injury reporting. The OHS Act gives the two criteria that define a reportable potentially serious incident.
- the incident had a likelihood of causing a serious injury or illness; and
- there is reasonable cause to believe that corrective action may need to be taken to prevent recurrence.
Potentially serious incidents11 must still be investigated and reported by the Prime Contractor (or employer if there is no Prime Contractor) although the reporting process has been simplified.12 The immediate reporting of potentially serious incidents is no longer required and the potentially serious incident reports are to be submitted after an investigation is complete. OHS has also indicated that potentially serious incident reports will be used for information and education purposes and won’t result in remedial inspection in most cases. OHS may follow up if there is evidence of a current or ongoing serious health and safety concern.13
The amendments to the OHS Act have resulted in changes which will impact owner and prime contractor obligations. It is important for owners and prime contractors to review the amendments in order to ensure they are aware of their obligations related to health and safety.
BLG regularly acts for owners and prime contractors on work sites and regularly provides advice on health and safety obligations in Alberta. If you have any questions regarding the amendments to the OHS Act, reach out to the authors or any of the contacts listed below.