New Occupational Health and Safety Act in Alberta: Upcoming changes for Joint Work Site Health and Safety Committees

22 avril 2021 | Tari M. Hiebert, Tessa Green, Daniel C.P. Stachnik

( Disponible en anglais seulement )

In Alberta, a new Occupational Health and Safety Act will come into effect on Proclamation.[1]

Once it is proclaimed into force, the new act will repeal the current Occupational Health and Safety Act, SA 2017 c O-2.1 (Current Act”).

The new act will be cited as the Occupational Health and Safety Act, SA 2020, c O-2.2 (“New Act).

In anticipation of the New Act being proclaimed into force at some point in the future, this article summarizes highlights of the changes that will affect Joint Work Site Health and Safety Committees (“JHSCs”).

Under the Current Act, the requirements for JHSCs are very detailed, and organizations may be surprised when they receive itemized demands from Occupational Health and Safety officers to produce documentation proving that their JHSCs comply with all of the applicable provisions in the Current Act and Part 13 of Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Code (“Code”).[2] Now is a good time to review how your organization’s JHSC functions and whether it is compliant with the Current Act and Code.

Threshold for Having a JHSC

Under the New Act, a JHSC will still be required if the employer employs 20 or more workers (no change in number); however, there will no longer be a secondary threshold that the work be expected to last 90 days or more.[3] It appears that, under the New Act, a JHSC will be required regardless of the duration of the work.

Note that there is a nuanced difference in the description of the 20-worker threshold under the two Acts. Under the Current Act, reference is made only to “20 or more workers”, plus the 90-day threshold of work.[4] Under the New Act, reference will be made to an employer that “regularly employs 20 or more workers”[5] (emphasis added), but without the 90-day threshold of work.

Changes to Requirements for JHSCs

The New Act will remove a number of obligations for JHSCs that are required by the Current Act.  Examples include the following, among others:

  • Many of the specific requirements that currently exist regarding the size, composition, co-chairs (role and identity), quorum, term of office, frequency of meetings, rules of procedure, and training requirements for the JHSC will be removed.[6]
  • The number of JHSC duties that are specifically listed in the New Act will be reduced from the Current Act. The specific duties listed in the New Act will “include” the following, which is a list of 4 items, down from 10:[7]
    • the receipt, consideration and disposition of concerns respecting the health and safety of workers;
    • participation in the employer’s hazard assessment;
    • the making of recommendations to the employer respecting the health and safety of workers; and
    • review of the employer’s work site inspection documentation.
  • Mandatory participation of the JHSC in incident investigations, which must be undertaken by the employer or prime contractor for certain serious incidents (fatalities, hospitalizations, etc.) will no longer be required.
    • Under the Current Act, the employer or prime contractor’s investigation “must be conducted with the participation of the joint work site health and safety committee”.[8]
    • But, under the New Act, no equivalent provision that would require the participation of the JHSC has been included.[9]
  • See our previous article for a discussion of how the JHSC’s involvement in work refusals will change under the New Act.

Principles That Will Not Change

Some requirements for JHSCs will not change, such as:

  • Employers must consult with any union before establishing a JHSC and must have representation from the unionized workers on the JHSC.[10]
  • The receipt, consideration and disposition of concerns respecting the health and safety of workers will still be a duty of the JHSC, as will making recommendations to the employer respecting the health and safety of workers.[11]
  • Employer representation on the JHSC cannot exceed worker representation.[12]
  • The Director of Inspection for the Province of Alberta will retain the power to require a JHSC for any work site.[13]

Part 13 of the Code – No Changes Yet

  • Requirements for JHSCs that are set out in the Code have not yet been amended. The Code is being reviewed by the Alberta government over the next three years. During each phase, feedback can be provided to the government.[14]
  • Provisions in the Code that need to be amended to align with the New Act will be addressed in year 1 of the review.[15]
  • However, at this time, and potentially for the foreseeable future, Part 13 of the Code, which is specific to JHSCs, will continue to apply to JHSCs.
  • These obligations include that each JHSC establish “terms of reference”, including a dispute resolution process for when the JHSC has failed to reach consensus on making a recommendation to the employer, quarterly inspections of the work site “to identify health and safety hazards that have not been controlled”, and attendance of the JHSC co-chair at a work site inspection upon the request of an officer.[16]

Under the Code, employers, contractors, and prime contractors have a positive obligation to “consult and cooperate” with their JHSCs “to develop policies, procedures and codes of practice” required by Alberta’s occupational health and safety legislation.[17] They also have an obligation to ensure that members of the JHSC “are allowed to examine records, policies, plans, procedures, codes of practice, reports or manufacturer specifications” that must be maintained pursuant to Alberta’s occupational health and safety legislation.[18]

A detailed review of your JHSC and its compliance to Alberta’s current legislation is recommended. Miller Thomson LLP is a leader in occupational health and safety law in Alberta and is available to assist your organization with navigating the impact of the New Act and updating your policies.

[1]     The Occupational Health and Safety Act, SA 2020, c O-2.2 (“New Act”) is awaiting Proclamation at the time of writing. It was introduced as Schedule 2 of Bill 47, Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act, 2020, which received Royal Assent on December 9, 2020 and became SA 2020, c 32. Section 2 of the Bill reads as follows: “The Occupational Health and Safety Act as set out in Schedule 2 is enacted and may be cited as chapter O-2.2 of the Statutes of Alberta, 2020”. Once the New Act comes into force upon Proclamation, it will repeal the current Occupational Health and Safety Act, SA 2017 c. O-2.1 (“Current Act”), per section 77 and 78 of the New Act.

[2]     Occupational Health and Safety Code, Alta Reg 87/2009 (“Code”).

[3]     New Act at s. 13(1)(a) and Current Act, at s. 16(1)(a).

[4]     Current Act at s. 16(1) and s.16(2).

[5]     Current Act at s.16(2) and New Act at s.13(1)(a).

[6]     Current Act at s. 19(a) – (j), ss, 26, 27 and 29.

[7]     New Act, supra at s. 13(6) lists 4 duties. The Current Act lists 10 specific duties at section 19.

[8]     Current Act, supra at s.40(6).

[9]     New Act, supra at s. 33.

[10]   Current Act at s. 22(1)(a) and New Act, supra at s. 13(1).

[11]   New Act, supra at s. 13(6) and Current Act, supra at s. 19(a).

[12]   New Act, supra at s. 13(5) and Current Act, supra at s. 22(1).

[13]   New Act, supra at s. 13(1)(b) and Current Act, supra at s. 16(1)(b).

[14]   Alberta Government, “OHS Code Review 2020-23” <>.

[15]    Ibid. See “OHS Code review: Year 1”.

[16]   Code, supra at ss. 197-198 and s. 202.

[17]   Code, supra at s. 200(1)(a).

[18]   Code, supra at s. 200(1)(c).

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