In the fall of 2021, important changes are soon to be implemented with regards to Alberta’s occupational health and safety laws, although a specific date for their coming into force has not yet been announced.
In December 2020, the Alberta government passed Bill 47: Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act, 2020 which effectively repeals and replaces the existing Occupational Health and Safety Act. The Bill also introduced substantial amendments to Alberta’s Workers’ Compensation Act, as discussed below.
The New Occupational Health and Safety Act
The Alberta government has stated that the purpose of the new Occupational Health and Safety Act is to: “to simplify language and remove unnecessary barriers for job creators without making substantive changes to workers’ rights and protections.”
Among the key changes are:
- The elimination of the current requirement that health and safety committees and representatives be on work sites with multiple employers and a prime contractor, such as construction sites.
- Currently, an employer cannot punish a worker for refusing unsafe work. While the fundamental principle remains the same, the definition what constitutes punishment is changing substantially and the concept is being renamed “disciplinary action” (it is currently called “discriminatory action”).
- Similarly, the language and rules surrounding a worker’s right to refuse dangerous work is changing. Additionally, the process surrounding the investigation and resolution of situations where workers refuse unsafe work is changing.
- The reporting requirements surrounding potentially serious incidents is changing.
In addition, earlier this year, the Alberta Government conducted public consultations about how these changes will impact the current Occupational Health and Safety Code.
Changes to the Workers’ Compensation Act
Bill 47 has also already brought important changes to the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Act. Some of the changes came into force on January 1, 2021, while others came into force more recently on April 1, 2021. Of the changes, the Alberta Government stated: “Bill 47 brings balance to workplaces and helps ensure workers can rely on a sustainable compensation system if they get ill or injured on the job.”
Some of the key changes to the Workers’ Compensation Act include:
- Reinstating an insurable earnings cap for injured and ill workers and changing the manner in which cost of living adjustments are calculated.
- The previous presumptive coverage for psychological injuries that applied to all workers is now limited to firefighters, police officers, peace officers, correctional officers, paramedics and emergency dispatchers. While other workers will continue to have access to coverage for work-related psychological injuries, such claims will have to go through the normal claim process moving forward.
- The previous obligation on employers to reinstate injured workers has been eliminated. Instead, there is now an obligation on both the employer and worker to cooperate on the worker’s return to work.
- Additionally, the former requirement that employers must continue to contribute to health benefit plans for injured workers who are off work has been eliminated.
- Finally, several independent review processes, including the Fair Practices Office and the Medical Panels Office, have been eliminated.
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