Alberta to Review OHS Act After 40 Years

Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Act will be comprehensively reviewed for the first time since its initial conception more than 40 years ago.

Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Act will be comprehensively reviewed for the first time since its initial conception more than 40 years ago, the province's government announced Aug. 16.

"Right now, we have an OHS Act that doesn't respect the fundamentals of worker safety in Alberta," Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said in a news release.

"All workers deserve healthy and safe workplaces from their first shift through to retirement. Alberta workplaces and the nature of Albertans' work have changed significantly during the past 40 years, we need to make sure the province's laws and best practices are helping keep Albertans safe at work," said Christina Gray, minister of Labour.

Although various amendments have been made to Alberta's OHS Act over the years, many of the labor laws have remained untouched since 1976. At its basic conception, the current regulations leave Alberta workers more vulnerable than others, with elementary safety provisions framed as suggestions rather than enforceable rules. "The act is full of token language that sounds good on the surface," McGowan said, "but doesn't amount to any meaningful, enforceable protections for workers, especially compared to other provinces."

Everything from compliance and enforcement to employee engagement and prevention will be examined to make sure standards and practices better reflect changes in a modern workplace.

"As our understanding of technology and hazards changes, we need a fast, effective way to change our laws," McGowan said. "Workers deserve the benefit of the latest research to protect their health and safety, particularly in dangerous fields. No worker should have to work in unsafe, unprotected conditions for decades simply because we lack legal mechanisms to address a known problem."

They will also address how to assure that employers who put workers in harm's way will be held accountable. This issue was recently brought to light after Calgary-based Suncor Energy pleaded guilty last month for failing to ensure the health and safety of an operator who drowned on the job in 2014, resulting in a $300,000 fine. In an interview with CBC, McGowan said a tougher sentence is needed in cases like this.

"That fine doesn't fit the crime," he said.

Any stakeholders, including employers, can take the OHS review survey and send in written submissions until the ongoing review commences Oct. 16.

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