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Occupational Health and Safety in Alberta: What Employers Need to Know

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Alberta OHS
Michelle Ann Zoleta

Michelle Ann Zoleta, Health & Safety Team Manager

(Last updated )

OHS Alberta is responsible for health & safety in workplaces across the province. The body helps ensure employers take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of their employees. In this blog, we’ll provide an Alberta OHS explanation guide, which will help you ensure compliance with Alberta OHS legislation.  

OHS Alberta ensures health and safety through three key pieces of OHS legislation:  

  • The Alberta OHS Code.  
  • The Alberta OHS Act. 
  • The Alberta OHS Regulation. 

Basic rights of workers in Alberta

 Workers in Alberta have three basic rights, they are:

  • The right to know (about hazards).  
  • The right to refuse unsafe work. 
  • The right to participate in their organization’s health and safety.  

Alberta OHS Code 

The OHS Code “sets the technical requirements for health and safety in Alberta’s workplaces”, which OHS Alberta does across 41 parts.  

The Code sets requirements for all industries, such as:  

  • General safety precautions.  
  • Definitions. 
  • Specifications. 
  • Certifications. 
  • General application guidelines for work. 

Updates to the Alberta OHS Code 

As of March 31st, 2023, the biggest update to the Alberta OHS Code is now in effect. These changes are designed to make the Alberta OHS Code easier to understand and modernize certain elements. They ensure the Code keeps up with modern health and safety standards, technology, and best practices.  

The update harmonized language, reduced duplication, and included adoption of best practices across eight parts. OHS Alberta also aligned technical requirements with the current health and safety standards. 

The eight parts updated were:  

  1. Overhead power lines and electrical utility workers.  
  2. Oil and gas wells.  
  3. Noise exposure. 
  4. Managing control of hazardous energy.  
  5. First aid. 
  6. Explosives.  
  7. Mining. 
  8. Miscellaneous amendments.   

Part of the update to the Alberta OHS Code involved assigning health and safety responsibilities to the party best prepared to address them – ensuring hazards are controlled.  

Alberta OHS Act  

 The Alberta OHS Act establishes the framework for health and safety in workplaces across the province, including providing proper health and safety practices and minimum standards.  

Spread across twelve parts, the Alberta OHS Act sets guidelines for:  

  • General obligations. 
  • Health and safety committees, representatives, and programs.  
  • Dangerous work and disciplinary action. 
  • Acceptances, allowances, approvals, inter-jurisdictional recognitions, and licences.  
  • Minister and staff. 
  • Medical examinations, assessments, and reports.  
  • Compliance and enforcement.  
  • Appeals. 
  • Offences and penalties. 
  • Information exchange and programs.  
  • Regulations and admin. 
  • Related and transitional provisions, being repealed and coming into force. 

Rules and laws outlined in the Act are enforced by OHS Alberta through inspections, investigations, orders, administrative penalties, fines, and prosecutions.  

Who does the Alberta OHS Act apply to? 

The Alberta OHS Act applies to most provincially regulated workplaces in Alberta.  

Exceptions include:  

  • Those who live and work in or around a private dwelling. 
  • Domestic workers (e.g. nannies, house keepers, etc.) who work in a private dwelling.  
  • Ranchers, farmers, and specific agricultural workers. 

Alberta OHS Regulation  

According to OHS Alberta, this Regulation “defines terms for the purposes of the OHS Act and Code and authorizes the Minister to establish programs.” 

The legislation explains the reasoning behind the rules and guidelines outlined in the Alberta OHS Code and Act. It also sets procedures for how the employment ministry will establish health and safety programs.  

Through the Regulation, OHS Alberta addresses health & safety based on four categories:  

  • General. 
  • Non-mining blasting operations and blasters permits.  
  • Mining operations and mining certificates.  
  • Records, fees, and expiry.  

Employer duties under OHS Alberta legislation  

Employers have certain duties and responsibilities with respect to Alberta OHS legislation. By following regulation, you’ll help prevent serious injuries and illnesses in your workplace. Plus, it’ll save your business time and money.  

The Alberta OHS Act requires you to ensure the health and safety of all those who:  

  • Contribute to the work of the employer.  
  • Do not contribute to the work of the employer but are present at the work site.  
  • Are in the general vicinity of the work site and may be affected by potential hazards.   

Additional employer duties to OHS Alberta include:  

  • Creating a health & safety program.  
  • Making sure all workers are aware of their health and safety rights under Alberta OHS legislation.  
  • Ensuring all hazards raised are addressed and resolved in a timely manner.  
  • Providing proper supervision of health and safety protocols and ensuring supervisors are both competent and familiar with OHS legislation.  
  • The formation of a Joint Health and Safety Committee or appointment of a health & safety representative (based on certain criterion).  
  • Making sure the committee or representative is in compliance with OHS Alberta legislation and has an up-to-date copy of all OHS legislation.  
  • Consult with your JHSC or health & safety representative.  
  • If work is dangerous, make sure the worker is under direct supervision of a competent individual.  
  • Ensure workers, supervisors, JHSCs, and representatives have access to information on work site hazards health and safety procedures, controls, proper work practices, etc.  

Joint health and safety committees (HSC) and representatives  

OHS Alberta requires employers with a certain number of employees to either form a health and safety committee or appoint a health and safety representative.  

Here's how to determine if your workplace needs an HSC or HS representative:

  • Employers with 20 or more employees are required to establish a health and safety committee. 
  • Employers with 5-19 employees must appoint a health and safety representative. 

Businesses with fewer than five employees are not required to have either in place. Health and safety representatives have the same duties as committees.  

You are required to post the names and contact details of HSC members or health and safety representatives. Additionally, you’ll need to record the minutes for HSC meetings. These minutes must be provided within seven days of the meeting taking place. Minutes can be provided in physical or electronic formats. OHS Alberta states you are required to hold onto these minutes for two years.  

Some additional requirements for JHSCs in Alberta include:  

  • JHSCs must have two co-chairs (One represents the employer, the other the employees).  
  • The committee must have a minimum of four members.  
  • The number of committee members who represent management cannot exceed the number who represent the workers. 

HSC guidelines and duties  

According to the Alberta OHS Act, HSCs are responsible for:  

  • The receipt, consideration, and disposition of concerns regarding the health and safety of workers. 
  • Participation in the employer’s hazard assessment. 
  • Making recommendations to the employer respecting the health and safety of workers.  
  • Reviewing the employer’s work site inspection documentation. 

Employer responsibilities regarding HSCs  

Employers have certain responsibilities they must fulfill under Alberta OHS legislation. This is in addition to the requirement that they form a JHSC or appoint a health & safety representative (based on specific criterion).  

These responsibilities include:  

  • Ensuring issues raised are addressed and resolved in a timely manner.   
  • Providing information to the JHSC relating to work site safety hazards, procedures, controls, and work practices.  
  • Ensuring the JHSC (and all workers) have access to a copy of the most up-to-date version of the Alberta OHS Act. 

Who is a competent person according to OHS Alberta?  

OHS Alberta defines a competent person as someone who is:  

  • Qualified. 
  • Properly trained.  
  • Possesses adequate experience to the extent to which they will not require supervision, or at least minimal supervision.  

In Alberta, workers in certain industries are legally required to complete certain OHS approved training. Such as:

  • Asbestos worker training. 
  • First aid training. 
  • Audiometric technician training.  
  • Pulmonary function technician training.  
  • Explosives safety worker training.  

Workplace violence and harassment  

In Alberta, workplace violence and harassment are considered hazards under Part 2 of the Alberta OHS Code. Employers are required to address these concerns  to ensure the safety of their workers. The Alberta OHS Code states employers must develop and implement violence and harassment prevention plans. These plans include dedicated violence and harassment prevention policies and procedures.  

You must develop your plans with:  

  • The Joint Health and Safety Committee or health and safety representative (if applicable)  
  • Workers (in workplaces with less than 5 employees) 

Workplace violence plan  

To ensure compliance with OHS Alberta, your violence and harassment policy should include:  

  • A commitment to eliminating hazards of violence. Or at the very least, controlling them.  
  • Intention to investigate, address, and take action regarding all instances of workplace violence. 
  • A promise the employer will not share the circumstances regarding an incident of violence, or the names involved, the perpetrator and any witnesses. 
  • A statement promising you will only disclose the minimum/necessary amount of personal information. 
  • Assurance that this policy will not conflict with any rights provided under any other law. 

The Alberta OHS Code outlines exceptions where you must investigate or take action, when you must alert workers of a potential threat to their wellbeing, or any other instance where the law dictates you to disclose this information.  

Violence prevention procedures should cover:  

  • Specific measures the employer will take to eliminate or control the violence hazard.   
  • Collection of information on the nature and extent of the violence.   
  • The procedure for disclosing information.  
  • How to respond/the process to follow immediately after a workplace violence incident.  
  • The violence reporting procedure.  
  • The process for documenting and investigating violence. 
  • Measures to eliminate/control workplace violence.  

Workplace harassment plan 

To ensure compliance with OHS Alberta, your workplace harassment plan should feature the following statements: 

  • A commitment to eliminating, or at the very least controlling harassment.  
  • A promise to investigate incidents of harassment and take action.   
  • A statement of nondisclosure regarding the harassment. 

Except for circumstances when:  

  • Information is needed for an investigation into the incident.  
  • In cases where the information is required by law.  

Reviewing violence and harassment plans  

OHS Alberta requires employers to review their violence and harassment policies. When doing so, consult with your JHSC, representative or workers – your requirements may vary under Alberta OHS legislation.   

A review must take place if:  

  • An instance of violence or harassment has occurred. 
  • Your JHSC or health & safety representative recommends a review. 
  • Three years have passed since the last review. 

Violence and harassment training  

OHS Alberta requires employers to educate workers with proper violence and harassment training. Your training should include:  

  • A recognition of violence and harassment.  
  • An explanation of your company’s workplace violence and harassment policies, procedures, and arrangements.  
  • Proper responses to violence and harassment. 
  • The process for reporting, investigating, and documenting instances of violence and harassment.  

Inspections  

OHS Alberta officers conduct inspections to ensure businesses in the province are following Alberta OHS legislation. OHS officers have the authority to enter workplaces through proactive or reactive investigations. If a business fails to meet OHS standards, they can issue a compliance order, which the employer must follow before resuming operations.  

Inspections conducted without warning are known as proactive inspections. They help mitigate potential hazards and ensure health and safety in the workplace.  

Proactive inspections tend to focus on:  

  • Fairly high injury and illness rates.  
  • High frequency of incidents.  
  • Emerging trends. 

Current OHS Alberta inspection programs focus on the following sectors:  

  • Wholesale manufacturing. 
  • Wholesaling, warehousing and department stores. 
  • Continuing care.   
  • Cities.  
  • Selected industries. 

Past OHS Alberta proactive inspection programs have focused on construction, healthcare, manufacturing, packaging, processing, mining, and service sectors.  

However, an OHS Alberta officer may conduct a reactive inspection if:  

  • An officer is following up on noncompliance.  
  • There was an incident at your worksite.  
  • Someone contacted OHS with a health & safety concern regarding your workplace.  

How do OHS officers enforce the Alberta OHS legislation? 

All members of your organization are required to comply with the officer’s requests. If an employer refuses the officer entry into the work site, OHS can seek a warrant from a judge.  

However, if the work site is located within a private dwelling, the OHS officer will need consent to access the work site.  Once on scene, an officer may do the following to collect information:  

  • Take measurements, samples, photos, or recordings.  
  • Speak with employees or witnesses (in the case of reactive inspections).  
  • Request the employer makes copies of documents. 

Before the investigation you can expect:  

  • The OHS Alberta officer will identify themselves and the reason for their visit (Identification will include government-issued ID and business cards). 
  • Ask questions (e.g., what type of work do you do, how many workers do you employ, etc.). 
  • Ask for a representative to join them during their inspection, which can be the manager of the work site, a member of the JHSC, the health & safety representative  or a worker of their choosing. 

During the investigation, you can expect:  

  • The officer to ask your workers questions, take photos, make measurements, or record videos. 
  • Inspect equipment, take samples, or conduct tests.  
  • Consult with technical experts. 
  • Request assistance to access computers, locked doors, areas, etc.  
  • Review documents such as training records, policies, procedures, etc.  
  • Collect worker statements. 

After the inspection and contact reports  

Throughout the inspection process, OHS Alberta officers document their interactions, observations, and findings. They compile this information into a contact report.  

Contact reports may include:  

  • Orders the OHS Alberta officer is issuing (if any).  
  • Any OHS rules your business may not be in compliance with.  
  • What you must do to ensure compliance. 
  • The deadlines for these changes. 

The order may also include notices and documentation you will need to produce, guidance on how to post orders, and the timing for doing so.  

The officer will typically deliver the contact report in person and on the same day as the inspection. They will also likely review the report with work site representatives.  

Incident investigation procedure  

OHS Alberta investigates serious work site incidents, especially those that caused fatalities. Serious incidents must be reported to the OHS Director.  

The employer or prime contractor must log the following:  

  • Time. 
  • Place.  
  • Nature of the injury.   

The investigations unit will assign an OHS officer to investigate. The process follows these seven steps: 

Step 1 

The OHS Alberta officer will visit and investigate the work site. They will determine the causes and circumstances behind the injury or incident. 

Step 2 

Throughout the investigation, OHS Alberta will receive and collect information. They will analyze it to figure out the facts and determine if there is noncompliance with OHS.  

Step 3  

OHS will conduct an enforcement action review. This will determine if this file should be submitted to Alberta Justice for potential prosecution. Files not submitted to Alberta Justice will be considered closed. 

Step 4  

Submitted files to Alberta Justice are reviewed to determine if charges are supported by evidence. If evidence is not found or the prosecution is not in the public interest, the investigation is closed.  

Step 5  

If Alberta Justice believes prosecution is likely and is in the interest of the public, charges are laid.  

Step 6  

At this stage, work site parties can be acquitted, found guilty, or have charges withdrawn/stayed.  

Step 7  

Following investigations and court proceedings, fatality investigation reports are posted and disclosed online.  

Types of OHS Alberta orders  

Under the Alberta OHS Act, officers have the authority to issue orders.  

The four types of OHS orders include:  

  • Compliance order.  
  • Stop use orders. 
  • Stop work orders.  
  • Director’s orders. 

What is a compliance order?  

Following an inspection, an OHS Alberta officer can take a wide range of actions in response to noncompliance. The response is typically based on the nature and severity of the noncompliance.  These include:   

  • Issuing orders.  
  • Writing tickets. 
  • Issuing administrative penalties.   
  • Making referrals to prosecution. 
  • Meeting with staff or management.  

Employers can appeal a compliance order issued by an OHS inspection officer. This is done through the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) – the appeal body for OHS matters 

The following can be submitted for review by the ALRB:  

  • Compliance orders submitted under the Alberta OHS Act sections 38, 39, or 40.   
  • Administrative penalties.  
  • Orders or administrative penalties varied by a Director under sec. 41 of the Alberta OHS Act.  
  • Cancellation or suspension of licences.   
  • Work refusal reports.  
  • Disciplinary action reports.   

What is a stop-use order?  

When an officer feels the use of equipment may seriously injure workers, they can issue a stop use order. The order will be lifted when the order requirements are met.  

What is a stop-work order?  

If an OHS Alberta officer believes the work being done at a work site is unhealthy or unsafe, they may issue a stop work order. This order requires all work to stop immediately.  

The order may apply to:  

  • The entire work site.  
  • Multiple work sites.  
  • Certain activities at the work site.   
  • Specific areas of a work site.  

The order will be lifted when all OHS Alberta requirements are met.  

What is a director’s order?  

OHS directors can issue the same orders as OHS officers and have the same powers. However, they can also require work sites to perform specific actions to ensure health and safety.  

 For example:  

  • Establish a health and safety program.  
  • Appoint a health and safety representative.   
  • Establish a prime contractor.  

What is an administrative penalty?  

When employers are in noncompliance with Alberta OHS legislation, they may receive a fine known as an administrative penalty. Administrative penalties are issued for serious or repeated instances of OHS noncompliance. When an OHS officer provides an order, acceptance or approval at a worksite, they may also issue an administrative penalty.   

Administrative penalties are determined on a case-by-case basis. However, there are certain factors OHS Alberta considers.  

Such as:  

  • The severity of the action.  
  • The risk of harm.  
  • The work site’s compliance history, which includes orders, violation tickets, and other interactions with OHS.  
  • Whether the work site has demonstrated a commitment to health & safety.  

Administrative penalty amounts  

The maximum amount of an administrative penalty per contravention is $10,000/day.  

Who can receive an administrative penalty?  

Any work site party listed under part one of the Alberta OHS Act can receive an administrative penalty.  

These include:  

  • Prime contractors.  
  • Contracting employers.   
  • Employers.  
  • Workers.  
  • Suppliers.  
  • Supervisors.   
  • Service providers.   
  • Owners.  
  • Temporary staffing agencies.   

Alberta OHS violation tickets  

OHS officers can issue tickets for noncompliance with specific portions of Alberta OHS legislation. OHS violation tickets can be issued on the spot and to workers, supervisors, a worksite party, or employers.  

Ticket fines typically range from $100 to $500 and each comes with a 20% victim surcharge.  

Examples of ticketable offences include:  

  • Failure to ensure workers’ proper use of equipment and/or PPE. 
  • Not providing access to emergency wash equipment.  
  • The employer does not have a required code of practice.  

Maximum OHS Alberta fines/penalties  

Once charges have been laid, the defendant can be:  

  • Acquitted.  
  • Found guilty.   
  • Have their charges withdrawn.   
  • Have their charges stayed.  

And if a worksite party is found guilty, this may result in:  

  • A fine.  
  • Imprisonment.  
  • Corporate probation.   
  • A creative sentence.  

The defendant may also receive a combination of these options:  

Maximum fines for first offence under OHS Alberta:

Up to $500,000 and or/up to 6 months in prison per violation. If the party persists with the offence, they can be fined $30,000/day.  

Maximum fines for second or subsequent offences:

Up to $1 million and/or up to 12 months in prison per violation. If the convicted party persists, they may also receive a fine of $60,000 until the issue is resolved.  

Work refusals  

In Alberta, workers have the right to refuse work they believe to be dangerous. The right to refuse dangerous work is guaranteed under the Alberta OHS Act.  

Important things to keep in mind following a work refusal:  

  • Workers are protected from reprisal.  
  • Employers cannot threaten disciplinary action for refusing work.   
  • Workers must report their refusal to work and their reasons to their supervisor, employer, or health & safety representative as soon as possible. 
  • Workers must ensure their work refusal does not negatively impact the health and safety of others in the workplace.  

Employee duties when refusing to work  

Based on OHS Alberta guidelines, employees refusing dangerous work should do the following:  

  • Refuse to perform dangerous work.  
  • Inform the employer about the dangerous work and their refusal to perform it.  
  • Ensure the employer begins investigating the hazard.  
  • If the employer refuses to stop work, connect with the OHS Contact Centre.  
  • Perform the alternative work your employer has provided, as long as it’s safe and you can reasonably perform it.  
  • Once their investigation is complete, review the report provided by the employer.  

Employer duties when faced with a work refusal  

When an employee refuses to perform work they deem dangerous, you are required to address and resolve the hazard. If you cannot resolve the issue immediately, you must speak to the worker and take the necessary steps.  

As an employer you must:  

  1. Inform the JHSC or H&S rep.  
  2. Inspect the hazard and take steps to remove it.  
  3. Conduct a hazard assessment.  
  4. Assign the worker to another job temporarily – with no decrease to pay.  
  5. Document all your findings and provide a copy of your final report to the JHSC/H&S rep.  

You cannot resume work until you have completed a hazard inspection. You must also eliminate the hazard or determine there is no hazard. 

Protecting workers from harmful substances   

 As an employer, you are required to minimize your workers exposure to any substance listed under Schedule 1, Table 2 of the Alberta OHS Code.  

 The OHS Code sets requirements for chemical hazards, biological hazards, and harmful substances.  

These requirements cover:  

  • Exposure to multiple substances.  
  • Exposure limits.  
  • Potential for worker exposure.  
  • Worker overexposure.  
  • Emergency baths, showers, eye wash equipment.  
  • Protective clothing.  
  • Asbestos (including distribution systems, worker courses, etc.). 
  • Lead exposure.   
  • Mould exposure.  

A full list can be read with the Alberta OHS Code, found here.  

Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)   

As an employer, you are required to ensure employees are trained on WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System).  

The main points of the WHMIS system include:  

  • Hazard classification.  
  • Cautionary labelling of containers.  
  • The provision of safety data sheets (SDSs). 
  • Worker education programs. 

Federal legislation requires that employers:  

  • Provide workers with education and training on the hazards associated with these substances, and products.  
  • Ensure proper labeling of hazardous products.  
  • Prepare workplace labels and SDSs.  
  • Put in place proper control measures.   

WHIMIS requirements are based on a mixture of federal and provincial legislation. The federal requirements/elements are subject to the Hazardous Products Act and the Controlled Products Regulations. WHMIS symbols, labeling, and classifications of hazards will be the same from province-to-province.  

Specific guidance for Alberta can be found in Part 4 of the Alberta OHS Code.  

How do I contact OHS Alberta?  

Employers and employees may contact OHS Alberta for the following reasons: 

  • To report an OHS concern.  
  • Ask an OHS expert a question.   
  • Report unsafe work.  
  • Refuse dangerous work.   
  • Report potentially serious incidents.   
  • Submit a disciplinary action complaint.   
  • Report mine or mine site incidents.  
  • Report serious injuries, illnesses, or incidents.  

You can contact OHS Alberta at 1-866-415-8690 (toll free) or you can reach its Edmonton headquarters at 780-415-8690. You can also submit an OHS concern or ask a question here.  

Have questions regarding Alberta OHS legislation?

Ensuring compliance with OHS Alberta is essential, however there’s a lot to keep up with. Our experts can help you prepare for workplace inspections, develop relevant health and safety policies, and ensure OHS compliance. Call us today at 1 (866) 931-9541 to learn more.

 

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