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Alberta government loosens requirements for joint worksite health and safety committees and health and safety representatives

By Sheena Owens and David Price, Stikeman Elliott LLP

 

On Dec. 13, 2019, the assistant deputy minister of the Department of Labour and Immigration issued a Director’s Order loosening the requirements for joint worksite health and safety committees and health and safety representatives in Alberta (the Order). The Order came into effect on Jan.31, 2020.

 

Prior to the Order becoming effective, and since June 1, 2018, employers were required by another Director’s Order to have a joint worksite health and safety committee or a health and safety representative at each and every worksite in Alberta, provided they met the applicable threshold of workers and length of work.

 

Now, pursuant to the Order, employers no longer need to have committees or representatives at each and every worksite. Instead, employers’ obligations return to those precisely set out in Sections 16 and 17 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the Act), namely:

 

Employers are required to have a joint worksite health and safety committee if they employ 20 or more workers and work is expected to last 90 days or longer; and

 

Employers are required to have a health and safety representative if they employ five or more workers and work is expected to last 90 days or longer.

 

In addition, the Order lessens the amount of training required by committee co-chairs and representatives, reducing the requirement from the completion of two mandatory courses to a single six- to eight-hour course that is provided by a designated training agency.

 

The Act never specified that each and every worksite needed a committee or representative. However, the Act permits the Director to issue a Director’s Order at any time to designate specific worksites as those requiring an employer to have joint worksite health and safety committees. It was under this mechanism that the previous government issued a Director’s Order on June 1, 2018, requiring that all worksites where the employer has 20 or more employers with work expected to last 90 days or longer must have a site-specific committee. This also required employers to have site-specific representatives where they had five to 19 workers with work expected to last 90 days or longer. The effect of the Order is to repeal the previous Director’s Order from 2018 and bring things back to what is set out in the Act itself.

 

That stated, the Order does not affect those worksites where there are 20 or more workers in total from two or more employers where work is expected to last 90 days or more. In this circumstance, the prime contractor or, where there is no prime contractor, all employers shall co-ordinate the establishment of a site-specific joint worksite health and safety committee.

 

Under the Act, the joint worksite health and safety committee and the health and safety representative are responsible for several things, including:

  • Receiving, considering and dealing with concerns and complaints respecting the health and safety of workers;
  • Meeting quarterly to discuss health and safety concerns;
  • Participating in the identification of hazards at the workplace;
  • Developing and promoting measures to protect the health and safety of persons at the worksite;
  • Developing and promoting health and safety education and information programs;
  • Making recommendations to the employer, prime contractor or owner respecting the health and safety of workers;
  • Inspecting the worksite at regular intervals;
  • Participating in investigations of serious workplace injuries and incident; and
  • Maintaining records relating to health and safety matters.

 

The Order may portend more significant changes to come in 2020 as the newly elected Alberta government continually states it will “cut red tape.” Compliance with the Act can be intimidating. Employers are encouraged to seek legal guidance with respect to their obligations under the Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Code.

 

This publication is intended to convey general information about legal issues and developments as of the indicated date. It does not constitute legal advice and must not be treated or relied on as such. Please read our full disclaimer at www.stikeman.com/legal-notice. 

 

Sheena Owens is a senior counsel in the Employment and Labour Group. She is an experienced employer-side employment lawyer and acts for a wide variety of employers in industries such as energy, construction, financial services and professional services. Over the course of her career, Owens has built trusted relationships with in-house counsel and human resources managers through assisting them with the employment issues their organizations face. She acts as a workplace investigator when allegations of harassment and discrimination are raised. She has provided advice on Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation, Personal Information Protection Act, Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and the Health Information Act. Owens is currently completing her occupational health and safety diploma at the University of Calgary so she can better assist her clients with OHS issues.

David Price is an associate in the Employment and Labour Group. His practice focuses on employment, labour relations, human rights and privacy law. He represents union and non-union employers on issues relating to labour and employment standards compliance, employment agreements, workplace policies, discipline and grievances, termination practices and procedures, restrictive covenants, human rights matters, collective bargaining and litigation arising from employee terminations. He regularly advises on drug and alcohol testing policies and practices, including in the emerging area of law surrounding the legalization and use of cannabis. Price also provides advice to clients on employment and labour matters in the context of corporate transactions.

 

 

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