Jail? Fines? Nothing? What are the real consequences of not following occupational health and safety (OHS) laws in Alberta?
Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act is the primary legislation governing OHS in Alberta. It also includes several regulations, each with its own role in regulating OHS:
- Occupational Health and Safety Regulation
- Farming and Ranching Exemption Regulation
- Occupational Health and Safety Code
- Administrative Penalty Regulation
In this article, we are going to focus on what happens when someone does not comply with any of these laws in Alberta. Who takes the heat, so to speak? What are the consequences?
Who is responsible for an unsafe work site?
Any work site party can be held responsible for an unsafe work site. As a reminder, work site parties named in the Act are:
- Service providers
- Contracting employers
- Prime contractors
- Temporary staffing agencies
Alberta OHS office can act against any person, which can be an individual or a company.
How does Alberta OHS enforce the Act?
Directors and officers with Alberta’s OHS office have wide powers to enforce the Act. These powers include inspections, investigations, inquiries, carrying out tests, issuing stop work or stop use orders, issuing administrative penalties, or charging a person with an offence. Let’s look at a few of these enforcement tools.
What are stop work and stop use orders?
An officer can issue a stop work order if they believe a worker’s health and safety are in danger. They can order that work be stopped or that a worker or other person leave the work site immediately. They can also issue a written order listing steps that other work site parties must take to protect people from or remove the danger.
If the danger exists across a company’s different work sites, the officer can order the company to stop all activities and everyone to leave the work sites. The company cannot resume work until the order is cancelled, which happens after they take steps to protect people from and remove the danger.
A stop use order is similar to a stop work order except it applies to the use of personal protective equipment, other equipment, harmful substances or explosives. An officer can order someone to stop using it and a supplier to stop supplying it.
If someone is not following a stop work or stop use order, the Director can apply to the Court of King’s Bench to turn the order into a court order. This gives the Director a greater ability to enforce the order. A person not following the order can also be fined up to $1,000,000, jailed for up to 12 months, or both.
What are administrative penalties?
Administrative penalties are tickets for bad behaviour! An officer can issue one if they believe a person has:
- not followed a part of the Act, regulations or OHS Code
- not followed an order made under the Act, regulations or OHS Code
- not followed an acceptance, allowance, approval or interjurisdictional recognition issued under the Act
- made a false statement or given false or misleading information to an officer
Administrative penalties can be up to $10,000 per incident. If the non-complying behavior continues for more than one day, the penalty can increase to up to $10,000 for each day the behaviour continues. When deciding how much the penalty should be, an officer should think about the seriousness of the issue and the resulting risk of harm.
An officer must issue an administrative penalty within two years of the alleged contravention or failure to comply. A person who pays an administrative penalty cannot be charged with an offence for the same issue. Failing to pay the penalty means the Minister can file the notice of administrative penalty with the court and enforce it as a judgment of the Court of King’s Bench.
What are the OHS offences?
A person is guilty of an offence if they participate in the following activities (set out in section 47 of the Act):
- not complying with an order or decision made under the Act, regulations or OHS Code
- intentionally blocking a Director or officer from carrying out their powers or duties
- not reasonably cooperating with a Director or officer in carrying out their powers or duties
- knowingly making a false statement or giving false information to an officer or the police carrying out an inspection or investigation
- making or causing another to make a record or destroying a record that is required under the Act, regulations or OHS Code
- not reporting an injury, illness, incident or worker exposure to radiation (see the requirements in section 33 of the Act)
- not complying with any provision of the Act, regulations or OHS Code
After an investigation, OHS may send the incident file to Alberta Justice and Solicitor General to review to see if the person responsible should be charged. Remember, a person can be an individual or an organization. Alberta Justice and Solicitor General will lay charges if there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction and the prosecution is in the public interest. They must lay charges within two years of the incident. Being charged means going through the justice system, the same way someone charged with a crime does. There are special prosecutors with Alberta Justice and Solicitor General who prosecute OHS offences.
If the court finds the person guilty of the offence, the person can be fined or jailed or both. For a first offence, the person can be fined up to $500,000. If the offence continues for several days, they can be fined up to $30,000 for each subsequent day. The person can also be jailed for up to 6 months.
For a second or subsequent offence, the person can be fined up to $1,000,000. If the offence continues for more than one day, they can be fined up to $60,000 for each subsequent day. The person can also be jailed for up to 12 months.
The court also has wide powers to make other orders against a person found guilty. For example, the court may order the person to pay money for training or education programs for the health and safety of workers, or any other purpose that furthers the goal of achieving healthy and safe work sites. Failing to pay these amounts (or installments) by the deadline in the court order means the amount owing becomes a fine, which the government can enforce in different ways.
Work site health and safety is everyone’s responsibility. Take responsibility for yourself and others, no matter your position. If you have questions about OHS laws or unsafe work sites, contact Alberta OHS.
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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.
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