New workplace rules will empower workers and save lives

Long overdue changes coming into effect today will give workers the tools and supports they need to stay safe and healthy on the job

Edmonton – Today, changes to Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) system will come into effect, saving the lives of countless workers in Alberta, while also providing better support to workers who face violence, harassment, or injury at work.

“The best way to keep workers safe is to give them tools to keep themselves safe,” said Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour. “With today’s new rules, the Notley government has given workers new tools to protect themselves at work. A stronger ‘right to refuse’ will give workers the right to say, ‘no’ when faced with a dangerous task. This legislation empowers workers, and by doing so, it will save countless lives.”

Today’s new rules come as a result of sweeping updates to Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act that saw their first changes since 1976 last year.  For decades, Alberta has lagged behind on safety legislation, 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 introduced an expansion of rights and protections that were long overdue, and new rules coming into effect today will have profound implications for workers.

Employers with 20 or more employees will now be required to involve workers in their own health and safety through Joint Work Site Health and Safety Committees, or by designating a Health and Safety Representative at work sites with 5-19 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 are a proven 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 to receive 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.

Workers will also have new protections when facing harassment and violence. “By defining harassment and violence under Alberta’s updated OHS Act – and by requiring employers to respond to incidents such as domestic and sexual violence – workers have more tools to protect themselves when faced with these horrible and often terrifying conditions. They’ll also have more recourse if they don’t feel heard, with a mandatory appeal process for workers who are disciplined for bringing these issues forward.”

These changes are also good for employers as well as workers. “A robust Occupational Health and Safety system is an opportunity, not a threat, for employers,” said McGowan. “We know many employers are already involved in robust health and safety processes. These changes are an opportunity to improve upon the good work that many employers are already doing. 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.”

MEDIA CONTACT:

Janelle Morin

Alberta Federation of Labour

780-278-3640 or jmorin@afl.org


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