Workplace heath and safety, workers comp changes proposed with Bill 30

Estimated $94 M needed to introduce legislative changes

With the introduction of Bill 30: An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans, the government of Alberta is proposing approximately $94 million worth of amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workers’ Compensation Act.

County of Wetaskiwin councillors briefly discussed an Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AMMDC) member bulletin — regarding the proposed bill — entitled Legislation introduced to Change Workers Compensation Board and Occupational Health and Safety Standards during their Dec. 19, 2017 general meeting.

The member bulletin was accepted as information.

Bill 30 was introduced Nov. 27, 2017, and proposes amendments to update the province’s framework on workplace illness, independence, transparency, stakeholder engagement, and accountability.

To the Workers’ Compensation Act the bill proposes a number of changes:

• Establishing an independent Fair Practices Office that helps Albertans navigate the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) system by providing additional resources to support workers every step of the way.

• Establishing a Code of Rights and Conduct that outlines the rights of workers and employers, while also explaining how WCB staff would recognize these rights and conduct.

• Removing the maximum insurable earnings cap of $98,700 per year, allowing injured workers to receive benefits in line with their expected annual earnings.

• Improving benefits for: surviving spouses and children when a worker is killed on the job, and young workers who sustain a long-term injury that affects their career opportunities.

• Improving retirement benefits for injured workers to better recognize the impact on an injured worker’s retirement savings.

• Providing an option for interim relief while decisions are under review or appeal, helping to reduce potential hardship while disputed claims are being reviewed or waiting appeal.

• Providing greater choice or injured workers in selecting health professionals.

• Enhancing coverage for psychological injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder, for all occupations where workers have experiences a traumatic incident at work.

• Requiring employers to continue to providing health care benefit programs to injured workers under existing coverage for one year after the date of the injury.

• Establishing an occupational Disease and Advisory Committee that would review occupational diseases, and provide advice on emerging trends in medical science.

• Continuing to allow WCB to determine how the Accident Fund is used.

• Introducing an obligation for employers to support the “return to work” of workers who suffer injuries and illness in their workplaces, Employers will have a duty to accommodate workers to the point of undue hardship.

Changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act include:

• Enshrining the three basic rights of workers in Alberta’s legislation: the right to refuse unsafe work, the proposed changes protect workers from any form or reprisal for exercising this right; the right to know, the proposed changes ensure workers are informed about potential hazards and they have access to basic health and safety information in the workplace; the right to participate, the proposed changes ensure workers are involved in health and safety discussions.

• Mandating joint work site health and safety committees for workplaces with 20 or more employees. The committees are responsible for: inspecting work sites for hazards, helping employers respond to health and safety concerns of workers, helping resolve unsafe work refusals, helping develop health and safety policies and safe work procedures, helping with new employee health and safety orientation, developing and promoting education and training programs.

• Requiring employers with between five and 19 workers to have a health and safety representative in the workplace.

• Clarifying the roles and responsibilities and workplace parties for health and safety, including the obligations of employers, supervisors, workers, owners, prime contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, service providers, self-employed persons and temporary staffing agencies.

• Protecting workers from workplace violence and harassment. This includes new legislative definitions as well as outlining the responsibility of employers and supervisors to prevent workplace violence and harassment, and workers to refrain from these activities.

• Protecting workers from loss of wages or benefits on worksites subjected to stop work or stop use orders or while safety improvements are being made.

• Requiring employers to report near miss incidents to OHS. A near miss incident is one that had the potential to cause serious injury to a person but did not.

• Expanding the ability of the courts to impose creative sentences, such as providing funding for research on preventative medicine or health and safety training programs.

• Requiring the government to publish more information collected during compliance and enforcement activities, including the results of OHS investigations.

• Requiring OHS laws be reviewed every five years to ensure they remain relevant to modern and changing workplaces.

While the government has not yet calculated the financial impacts of the legislative changes. It is likely WCB rates and other employers’ costs will increase. It has been projected the cost of implementing the changes will be approximately $94 million.

amelia.naismith@pipestoneflyer.ca

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