By Jody Young
All workers should be able to come home safely at the end of their workday, from the first shift right through to retirement.
That becomes more possible when government, employers and workers collaborate to create healthy and safe workplaces. A combination of best practices, education, awareness, and compliance with occupational health and safety (OHS) laws helps achieve that goal.
By taking actions before an incident occurs, workplace illnesses and injuries can be prevented. We are accomplishing this by empowering workers, enforcing workplace health and safety laws, and enhancing partnerships between government and employers.
Starting in 2019, the Alberta government introduced a prevention initiative that outlines priorities for the OHS system. The purpose is to align the system and coordinate efforts to battle those hazards that most impact worker health and safety and system costs.
The three basic rights
Health and safety committees and representatives support the three basic workers’ rights that are a key part of our OHS Act. Workers have the right to know about workplace hazards and how their employer plans to address them. Workers have the right to participate in health and safety at their workplaces, such as serving as the health and safety representative or on the committee. Finally, workers have the right to refuse dangerous work and are protected from reprisals for exercising this right.
Preventing harassment and violence
Alberta’s OHS laws also address workplace harassment and violence. The rules define workplace harassment and violence in all forms including domestic and sexual violence. Employers and supervisors are required to ensure workers are not subjected to nor participate in workplace harassment and violence, are required to investigate incidents of harassment and violence, and take corrective actions. They are required to develop harassment and violence prevention plans and review them at least once every three years. They are also required to advise workers of treatment options if harmed by harassment or violence.
Compliance delivers health and safety
Compliance with OHS laws helps keep our workplaces healthy and safe. Each year, our ministry proactively inspects employers to monitor compliance with legislation. We choose employers and sectors with relatively high injury and illness rates, high frequency of incidents or complaints, persistently low rates of compliance and emerging trends.
Proactive inspection programs help work site parties identify health and safety hazards and measures to mitigate them. Inspection programs in 2019-20 include care workers, exhibitions, residential infill construction, restaurants and catering, trucking, metal/steel fabrication, mining, health care, and selected employers with higher injury and incident rates. Alberta’s OHS staff adhere to high professional standards when conducting inspections and interacting with employers and workers.
Partners in health and safety
Working with industry is key to achieving our health and safety goals. The Partnerships in Injury Reduction is a voluntary program in which employer and worker representatives work collaboratively with government to build effective health and safety management systems. By improving health and safety, we can reduce the social and financial costs of workplace injury and illness.
The Partnerships in Injury Reduction program awards Certificates of Recognition (COR) to employers that have developed a health and safety management system and met established standards. A COR shows that the employer’s health and safety management system has been evaluated by a certified auditor and meets provincial standards. Our ministry establishes these standards. Employers with a COR may be more attractive to other employers contracting their services or to prospective employees. Employers with a COR may also pay lower WCB premiums.
COR is pervasive in Alberta, and we are especially proud that a wide variety of sectors use the COR program in our province. Our ministry is currently reviewing the COR program to see how we can make a good thing even better.
Alberta Labour and Immigration offers many resources for employers and workers related to occupational health and safety. This includes webinars, publications, and eLearning programs. I encourage you to visit our resources page at www.alberta.ca/ohs-education-resources.aspx
Jody Young is the Assistant Deputy Minister of Safe, Fair and Healthy Workplaces with Alberta Labour and Immigration.