A new Alberta safety code is coming into effect in July after a lengthy public consultation process.
"Our members are supportive of the changes to legislation that improve safety, but they must be reasonable and practical to implement," said Ken Gibson, executive director of the Alberta Construction Association.
"Our biggest concern right now is that the timeframe to implement the changes is only three months. There is a lot of burden being put on employers because they have to change their training materials and courses, labeling on equipment and processes on the worksite."
OHS Code updates that will impact the construction industry include:
- New requirements for lift calculations, tag lines and personnel baskets;
- Distinguishing between 'confined' and 'restricted' spaces for entry permit systems;
- Requirements applicable to respiratory protection against airborne biohazardous material;
- Mobile equipment requirements specifically for concrete pump trucks;
- New, specific safety factors for rigging components.
Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada to update its workplace safety rules through public consultation rather legislation.
"The process we follow in Alberta is different," explained Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"We are the only province in the country that has adopted this approach to updating and reviewing the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Code."
The code has been updated three times in six years, but employers are still operating under the 2006 version of the code until July 1, when the new code comes into effect.
"The rules are significantly different than they were before, because there are exact specifications now," said Chris Chodan, public affairs officer with the Ministry of Employment and Immigration.
"In 2004 the OHS Act was revamped so updates could be made by changing technical requirements, rather than being specified through new legislation."
Under the new system, the code is updated and reviewed by a government minister in consultation with industry representatives.
"We took recommendations from various members of the public and put them in front of our technical specialists, who in turn made recommendations of what changes could be made," said Chodan.
"The changes were put up on a website for comment. The changes went back to the OHS council, who determined which ones were appropriate. Finally, the OHS council makes recommendations to the minister responsible."
The consultation process uses a model that gives industry 15 representatives and labour and government four representatives each.
"The big difference is that Alberta has essentially pulled the OHS rules outside of the legislative process," said McGowan.
"This is fundamentally undemocratic and dangerous. Legislative scrutiny is at the heart of our democracy. The public should be worried when any laws are taken out of the hands of the legislature and put into the hands of individual politicians or cabinet ministers."
Gibson said that he agrees with most of the changes in the new code, but has some concerns about the process.
He also expressed concern that frequent change to the entire safety code is putting an undue burden on employers.
"Moving things into the safety code and leaving legislation intact is more responsive and flexible in practice," he said.
"But, now we see annual changes to the whole code, so it is way too responsive. We were never supposed to change huge parts of the code or the entire code at once."
According to Gibson, the consultation process, which includes attending meetings and pouring over the changes to give a reasoned response, is very time consuming.
He added that when changes are made every couple of years, there is not enough time to see if the industry has significant concerns.
The ministry spokesman sees things in a different light.
Chodan said that since the code has been changed several times in the last few years, there my not be a need for frequent changes.
"We are reviewing the code every two to three years, but it may not be that frequent in the future," he said
"It will depend on how many recommendations we get from stakeholders and industry, as well as how fast the industry changes."
The 2009 OHS Code can be found online at: http://employment.alberta.ca/whs-ohs.
Journal of Commerce, Wed May 13 2009
Byline: Richard Gilbert