Long overdue changes will give workers the tools and supports they need to stay safe on the job
Edmonton – Changes to Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and Workers’ Compensation systems will save the lives of countless workers in Alberta, while also providing better support to workers who are injured at work.
“The best way to keep workers safe is to give them tools to keep themselves safe,” said McGowan. “With this legislation, the NDP has done just that. Mandatory workplace health and safety committees will allow workers to identify and take action on hazards they see in their own workplaces. And a more robust ‘right to refuse’ will give workers the right to say ‘no, I won’t do that’ when they’re asked to do something that they know is dangerous. By empowering workers, this legislation will save lives. Many, many lives. This is a very good day for working Albertans.”
For the first time since it was introduced in 1976, Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act will see comprehensive updates. For decades, Alberta has been at the back of the pack for safety, with a high worker injury rate compared to other jurisdictions in Canada. Bill 30: An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans contains an expansion of rights and protections that are long overdue, and will have profound implications for workers.
“The nature of work has changed a lot over the last forty years, yet for decades previous conservative governments refused to step up to protect the lives of workers,” said Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour. “These long overdue Occupational Health and Safety changes will put workers at the center of the workplace health and safety equation by building our OHS system on three fundamental worker rights: the right to know about workplace hazards, the right to participate in workplace health and safety programs and policies, and the right to refuse unsafe work.”
The new legislation ensures workers have a voice in workplace health and safety through Joint Work Site Health and Safety Committees or Representatives at work site with 5 or more employees. “Joint health and safety committees are the norm at many unionized workplaces such as Suncor, the Imperial Oil Strathcona Refinery, TransAlta, Safeway, and throughout the public sector,” said McGowan. “These committees have been shown to be an effective way to engage workers and provide them a voice in ensuring a safer workplace.”
Another key change in the new legislation is that when stop-work orders are issued to address unsafe working conditions, workers will continue receiving pay and benefits. “Not only will this encourage workers to step forward with health and safety concerns, but it will provide incentives for employers to quickly address the problem,” said McGowan.
For workers who are injured or killed on the job, changes to Workers Compensation will ensure broader and more comprehensive coverage. Those who are injured will be able to access receive better coverage with the elimination of the insurable earnings cap and improved survivors’ benefits, and with a renewed focus on getting them back to work. They will also see the creation of an independent Fair Practices Office to provide an ombudsman-type role within the workers compensation system.
Because the Workers Compensation Board Accident Fund was already funded at 133.8% at the end of 2016, employers shouldn’t see their WCB premiums increase because of these changes.
“A robust Occupational Health and Safety system combined with an improved Workers Compensation system is an opportunity, not a threat, for employers,” said McGowan. “Better workplace health and safety will mean fewer injuries and deaths – which is good in and of itself, but also means less lost work time, and a decrease in money paid to support the victims of workplace injuries and fatalities.”
Alberta Federation of Labour
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