Alberta’s OHS review must address missing fundamentals of worker safety
Edmonton - The Alberta Government’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) review is a welcome and long-awaited announcement. Decades of PC governments have produced an Albertan OHS framework that’s fundamentally out of step with other Canadian provinces, putting economic growth ahead of workers and their safety.
“Right now, we have an OHS Act that doesn’t respect the fundamentals of worker safety in Alberta,” said Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour. “The act is full of token language that sounds good on the surface but doesn’t amount to any meaningful, enforceable protections for workers, especially compared to other provinces.” At its basic conception, Alberta’s OHS Act leaves Alberta workers more vulnerable than workers in other provinces, with elementary safety provisions framed as suggestions rather than enforceable rules.
In addition to these more basic problems, there are also a number of brass-tacks updates necessary to reflect emerging workplace challenges. In a modern workforce where workplace technology continues to advance and scientific knowledge about hazards is expanded, there is no mechanism for updating legislation to reflect these changes. “As our understanding of technology and hazards changes, we need a fast, effective way to change our laws,” said Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour. “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.”
Further, working alone has always posed unique challenges for certain sectors, highlighted with violent gas-and-dash incidents in recent years. A move toward a BC pay-at-the-pump model could protect gas station attendants who often work alone, and a thorough review of working-alone legislation could identify and make provisions for other dangerous sectors.
Perhaps most critically, employers who put workers in harm’s way need to be held accountable. “Calgary Police Service is doing excellent work to make it easier to press criminal charges for employer negligence with the Kresk Protocol,” said McGowan. “We need the government to continue working with police across the province to make sure they have the tools to investigate and place charges in workplace incidents. Employers need to be held accountable for cutting corners when it comes to OHS.”
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