Eight things workers should (and hopefully already) know about occupational health and safety laws in Alberta.
It’s one thing to read the laws in Alberta about occupational health and safety (OHS). But how does it actually work day-to-day? Say you work in construction or IT or a school. The reality is that OHS laws are all around us. But does everyone know what the laws say?
We recently sat down with a safety coordinator in the Edmonton area, who shall remain nameless. They gave us their take on eight things workers should know (but might not!) about OHS laws in Alberta.
1. There are OHS laws.
This sounds silly but it’s true. Some workers do not know that there are multiple laws governing OHS practices in Alberta, and across Canada.
Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act applies to most workers in Alberta. It also includes the OHS Regulation and OHS Code. We say it applies to ‘most’ workers because there are exceptions. The OHS Act applies to people meeting the definition of ‘worker’ (see below). But it does not apply to workers governed by federal safety laws. Workers in federally regulated industries are covered by Part II of the Canada Labour Code. Learn more about federally regulated workers at CPLEA’s Law FAQs website.
This article discusses Alberta’s OHS legislation.
2. Workers have the right to know, participate and refuse unsafe work.
These three rights are enshrined in section 2 of Alberta’s OHS Act. The right to know means the “right to be informed of work site hazards and the means to eliminate or control those hazards”. This includes being informed if another worker has exercised their right to refuse unsafe work for the same work you are being asked to do.
The right to participate means the “right to meaningful participation in health and safety activities pertaining to their work and work site, including the ability to express health and safety concerns.” This includes being part of joint health and safety committees or acting as the health and safety representative.
The right to refuse unsafe or dangerous work is mentioned in section 2 and described further in section 17 of the OHS Act. A worker may refuse to do work if they reasonably believe there is an undue hazard at the work site or that the work may jeopardize their health and safety or that of another worker or person. The employer can assign the worker to other work while they investigate and remove the hazard. If the employer considers the hazard to be gone but the worker still disagrees, the worker can report their concerns to an OHS officer to investigate further.
3. Work site parties have legislated rights and responsibilities.
Alberta’s OHS Act defines nine work site parties:
- Employer: includes self-employed persons, employers who hire workers through a temporary staffing agency, someone designated as the employer’s representative, a director or officer of a corporation, or an employee overseeing the company’s occupational health and safety program
- Supervisor: a person who has charge of a work site or authority over a worker
- Worker: a person engaged in an occupation, including who performs or supplies services for free. A worker does not include a student doing unpaid work as part of a school program, and family members and volunteers on a farm.
- Supplier: a person who sells, rents, leases, erects, installs or provides any tools, appliances, personal protective equipment, equipment, harmful substances or explosives for use at a work site
- Service provider: a person who provides training, consultation, testing, program development, or other services for an occupation or work site
- Contracting employer: a person, partnership or group that directs the activities of one or more employers at a work site according to a contract, agreement or ownership
- Owner: the person who owns the land of the work site or a person who agrees to be responsible for the owner’s responsibilities under the Act. It does not include a person who owns a private residence unless a business, trade or profession is carried on in that place.
- Prime contractor: the prime contractor overseeing two or more employers working at a construction or oil and gas work site (or other work sites OHS says must have a prime contractor)
- Temporary staffing agency: an agency that brings on workers and places them with other employers
The Act lists specific responsibilities for each of these parties (see sections 3 to 12). Because these responsibilities are set out in legislation, a person in one of these positions can face consequences under the law if they do not abide by their responsibilities.
4. OHS can ticket or charge work site parties for unsafe behaviours.
A company may discipline someone who does not follow safety protocols. However, the person or company can also face consequences from Alberta OHS. Work site parties can be ticketed, jailed or both. Learn more in a recent LawNow article: What happens when someone does not comply with Alberta’s OHS laws?
5. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the law.
It’s not just something your boss keeps bugging you about. Failing to wear PPE might mean being disciplined by your company. But it can also lead to consequences for you or your company from Alberta OHS. The required PPE depends on the industry in which you work and the specific site conditions. PPE can range from a hard hat, safety vest and steel-toed boots (the basics) to respirators, chemical suits and fall protection.
6. Safety audits matter.
Safety audits allow a company and its workers to see how effective a safety program is and the company’s commitment to following its policies and procedures.
Organizations with COR must complete external safety audits every three years and internal maintenance audits the other two years. Failing to do an audit may mean losing COR. And one benefit of COR is that it may reduce a company’s WCB premiums, presumably because the company is a safer place to work and so injuries leading to WCB benefits being paid out are less common.
7. Use your daily logbooks, FLHA’s, etc.
These daily hazard assessments are vital to identifying any hazards on a job site and informing all work site parties about those hazards. Again, it’s not just paperwork. The conditions outlined in the FLHA allow a worker to exercise their rights to know, participate and refuse unsafe work.
8. Safety is everyone’s responsibility.
Safety is not just a policy or the safety coordinator’s role. Everyone on a work site has a responsibility to conduct themselves in a way that creates a safe work environment for themselves and everyone else.
Looking for more information?
The information in this article was correct at time of publishing. The law may have changed since then. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LawNow or the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.
Looking for articles like this one to be delivered right to your inbox?