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‘Prescriptive’ nature of Alberta’s OHS legislation cause for concern: ACA

Grant Cameron
‘Prescriptive’ nature of Alberta’s OHS legislation cause for concern: ACA

Most stakeholders in Alberta’s construction industry support engagement in occupational health and safety (OHS) initiatives, but some have raised concerns with the prescriptive nature of rules that exist under current legislation.

A brief submitted recently to the province by the Alberta Construction Association (ACA) on reforms being considered to OHS legislation notes some of the requirements for the structure of health and safety committees function, training, conduct of meetings, and even the management of meeting minutes, has resulted in challenges.

For example, some have had difficulty finding volunteers and meeting training requirements as a result. They want a robust but less complex framework. They also have other concerns, such as the rules of procedure not being clear, and they want a review to determine how employers can be assured that the worker health and safety training being provided meets the intent of the legislation.

The brief states in construction, where prime contractors are required to co-ordinate OHS at multi-employer worksites, setting up a health and safety committee (HSC) can be challenging due to the transient nature of the workforce and changing activities as construction progresses.


ACA: Provide a ‘robust, but less complex’ framework

Instead, the ACA suggests in the brief that “providing a robust, but less complex and prescriptive framework for worker engagement may help promote compliance as well as allow workplaces to develop processes and programs that better align with their workforce, hazards and organizational structure.”

Legislation is expected this fall that will reform the provincial OHS Act and the WCB Act in an effort to improve health and safety outcomes, while enabling innovation and competitiveness. The government has invited stakeholders to submit comments. The ACA based its input from members and its safety WCB committee.

ACA executive director Ken Gibson says the organization welcomes the opportunity to revisit changes to the OHS Act that were introduced by the previous government but has some issues.

“ACA would like to see the act better reflect the unique needs of the construction industry,” he says.

The brief recommends the elimination of the legislated requirement for a joint health and safety committee and that any requirement needs to be substantiated by evidence of safety improvement, otherwise scarce resources that could be better used to improve safety have the risk of simply adding administrative burden.

“The legislated requirements for joint committees involving multiple contractors on a jobsite are quite administratively burdensome, given that contractors and work crews change continuously through the life of a project,” says Gibson. “The Alberta Construction Association is concerned that the requirements for joint health and safety committees may weaken the internal responsibility of all personnel on a jobsite for a safe worksite — rather than immediate resolution of issues, deferring to a committee.”


Industry and projects change rapidly and frequently

According to the ACA, the commercial and institutional construction industry and its projects are too dynamic and fluid to make a defined composition of worker to management reps on a committee meaningful or practical, compounded by selection through a voting process.

“This industry and its projects have too rapidly a changing workforce which distracts employers and the workforce from real progress in safety, as valuable time is wasted meeting bureaucratic quotas of member voting and participation,” the brief states, noting requirements appear to be based on an antiquated concept that there is management/workforce strife in every workplace, a concept not based on evidence and which leads employers to focus on a compliance program rather than developing world-class safety.

“Employers want to invest scarce dollars in proven practices that improve jobsite safety, rather than spending them on administrative tasks with no clear evidence these tasks improve jobsite safety,” says Gibson.

On worker and supervisor training competency, the ACA notes consistent approaches to training are critical but a vast enterprise of safety training services has developed which has created “wide gaps” between what an employer thinks they are getting by paying for the training and what they end up getting.

Without clearly defined industry and government accepted standards for the training, and no oversight of the training delivered, industry and individual employers are in a compromised position, the brief states, and simply can not know with certainty whether the training meets the need and whether the training is acceptable to the government, owners and prime contractors.


Industry/government review needed

The ACA wants a comprehensive and co-operative industry/government review to determine where and how employers can be assured that the training they’re providing to employees meets the intent of the legislation and needs of the industry.

“We anticipate the review will reveal large deficiencies within the overall provincial strategy to improve workplace safety through quality safety training,” the ACA states in the brief. “More importantly, we believe such a review will help chart a course to provide solutions to this very real issue.”

The ACA also suggests that OHS legislation needs to be made clearer by simplifying language and adding clarity to definitions and removing duplications of provisions already covered elsewhere, the brief notes.

Meanwhile, it recommends focusing resources on employers without systems or programs as it will have vastly greater impact than increasing scrutiny of those that do, and will lead to significant and sustained injury reduction improvements for Alberta.

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