‘Breadth and depth’ approach to Alberta occupational health and safety changes, lawyer says

By Ian Burns

Law360 Canada (March 29, 2023, 12:35 PM EDT) -- Changes to Alberta’s occupational health and safety (OHS) code come into effect at the end of the month, and several lawyers are saying employers and employees should be aware of them in order to ensure their practices and procedures are compliant with the law.

The code is a regulation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and contains the detailed technical requirements for controlling health and safety hazards at workplaces. The changes, which were outlined in a ministerial regulation last December and take effect March 31, include updated requirements on first aid, managing hazardous materials and incident reporting and investigation, alongside new rules for explosives, mining and the oil and gas sector.

Many changes are administrative, removing duplication and clarifying requirements. Others update technical standards, so they reflect current health and safety practices across Canada and new technology.

“We’re modernizing the OHS code to reflect today’s best practices, and this is a huge step towards my goal of making sure every Albertan returns home safely at the end of the day,” said Brian Jean, Alberta’s minister of jobs, economy and northern development.

Steve Eichler, Field Law

Steve Eichler, Field Law

Steve Eichler, an employment lawyer with Field Law in Calgary, said there is a “breadth and depth” approach to the changes, with some affecting everyone in the province and others being important technical requirements for specific industries.

“Everybody must consider the first aid changes, not only with respect to getting training from appropriate authorized sources but also revisiting something as elementary as your first aid kit,” he said. “But if you are not involved in explosives then that is probably something that you are not going to be particularly interested in — but if you are, there are some pretty meaningful changes.”

Iain Bailey of McLennan Ross LLP agreed that a lot of the changes are housekeeping and align with improved national standards but said that there are “some features hidden here that employers and employees should be aware of.”

“A really important one has to do with noise exposure — they have reduced the threshold for conducting a noise exposure assessment from 85 decibels to 82 decibels,” he said. “Eighty-two decibels you can hit on a high traffic street or a busy restaurant quite easily in some cases, so I think that is one thing that folks should be aware of in terms of that threshold is not as far out of reach as people might normally expect and might not necessarily equate with a high noise environment.”

Eichler said the changes require a different way of doing things on worksites, so procedures are going to have to be rewritten and “as counsel it is our job to make sure they are re-examined and refreshed to get them in line with current legislation.”

“Although these changes might not be headline grabbing in and of themselves the implications may be missed by employers, so it behooves us to make sure we look after and ensure our clients understand that,” he said.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act requires government to publish a plan to review the OHS code every three years.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for Law360 Canada please contact Ian Burns at Ian.Burns@lexisnexis.ca or call 905-415-5906.