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Federal government announces changes to WHMIS Legislation

The federal government has announced certain amendments to the federal Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) legislation which covers suppliers of hazardous chemicals in Canada. The purpose of the amendments is to align with the Globally Harmonized System for Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). The GHS is being adopted by countries around the world and provides a consistent international system for chemical classification and labelling.

While the amendments came into force February 11, 2015, there will be a transition period during which suppliers can comply with either the old WHMIS system (WHMIS 1988) or the new WHMIS system (WHMIS 2015).

Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Code, 2009 (OHS Code), Part 29 contains the applicable WHMIS requirements for employers and workers in Alberta and is in the process of being amended to align with the federal legislation and the GHS. It is anticipated that there will also be a transition period during which Alberta employers can comply with either or both WHMIS systems.

Further information about these changes can be found on the Work Safe Alberta website or the Health Canada website.

Federal government announces changes to WHMIS Legislation

The deadline for Albertans to provide input on changes to Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Code is fast approaching

The Alberta government has made revisions to Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Code and has invited the public to provide comments on the proposed changes by way of surveys. The deadline for completing the surveys is January 31, 2015.

Some of the proposed changes include requiring employers to develop written policies and procedures to deal with workplace harassment (in addition to workplace violence) and changes to Part 29 – WHMIS to align with the proposed federal legislation.

To review the proposed changes and complete the surveys go to http://work.alberta.ca/occupational-health-safety/ohs-code-public-consultation.html.

The deadline for Albertans to provide input on changes to Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Code is fast approaching

Alberta employer fined $80,000 following conveyor incident

An Alberta employer has been sentenced to a fine of $80,000 plus the 15% victim fine surcharge following a workplace incident which occurred in 2011 at its distribution center.

A worker was injured while bending down under a conveyor to plug in a portable weigh scale. As she bent down, she felt herself being propelled violently backward. A subsequent investigation determined that her hair had become entangled in the drive shaft under the conveyor. She sustained numerous injuries, losing part of her thumb and part of her hair.

At trial, the employer was convicted of two offences under the occupational health and safety legislation, the court finding that the employer had failed to establish the defence of due diligence. In its sentencing decision, the court considered the employer’s safety policies and its corporate commitment towards safety to be mitigating factors. However, the court noted that the employer had been convicted for failing to use all reasonable measures to ensure the safety of its workers who worked near the conveyor. Company officials had failed to recognize, over a four year period, that a large portion of the conveyor was unguarded. The court was also critical of the training given to workers about the dangers of conveyors. Thus, while the employer was concerned about safety, the court found that it had not been vigilant enough.

The court also considered the impact of the incident on the worker as increasing the gravity of the offence. However, the lack of a guilty plea was not treated as an aggravating circumstance. The court also inferred that the employer was remorseful based on the steps it had taken following the incident, and considered that a mitigating circumstance.

The court reviewed the sentencing jurisprudence but considered this case to be unique in relation to the fact that the employer’s oversight took place over four years and caused considerable pain and disfiguring injuries. Thus, a fine of $80,000 was considered appropriate.

This case serves as yet another example of the difficulty of successfully establishing a due diligence defence. It is also a reminder to employers to ensure they perform appropriate and thorough safety inspections and consider all aspects of the workplace that could potentially pose a danger to workers. This decision also demonstrates that while sentencing precedents are useful, the court is not bound by them and must consider all of the circumstances of the case in determining an appropriate sentence.

R. v. Value Drug Mart Associates Ltd., 2014 ABPC 255 (CanLII)

Alberta employer fined $80,000 following conveyor incident

Owner/developer was not responsible for civil damages sustained in a workplace incident 20 years ago

Over 20 years after a workplace incident that seriously injured a worker, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench has dismissed the worker’s civil action against a developer.

The worker had been working on a rooftop of a condominium conversion project in March 1994 when he slipped on an icy roof and fell through a piece of plywood covering a hole cut through the roof for a skylight. The worker sustained serious injuries and was rendered a paraplegic. A report from Alberta OHS prepared following the incident noted several deficiencies at the work site but charges were not laid.

The worker commenced a civil action against three parties thought to be outside the workers’ compensation scheme. Two of those parties were ultimately let out of the action after the Court determined that they did fall within the workers’ compensation scheme. The remaining defendant was the owner of the property and the developer of the project. The worker alleged that the developer was liable for the incident on the basis of negligence in the development and supervision of the project, vicarious liability for the project manager, and breaches of the Occupier’s Liability Act.

One of the aspects considered by the trial judge was the impact of the statutory requirements under Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”). The Court confirmed that while a breach of the OHSA could inform on the reasonable standard of care, it could not create an enforceable duty. Further, the evidence did not establish that the OHSA had been breached as it did not impose any duties on an owner/developer. The OHSA in force at the time of the incident (RSA 1980) has since been amended but while many aspects of the legislation have since changed, the current OHSA also does not impose any duties on an owner directly, unless the owner is considered the prime contractor.

Ultimately, the Court found that while the developer did owe a duty of care to the worker, that duty was limited in scope and was restricted to the selection of a competent project manager. The developer was not responsible for supervising safety at the work site. The court found that the developer’s selection of the project manager was reasonable and satisfied its duty of care to the worker. Further, the Court determined that the project manager’s relationship to the developer was that of an independent contractor such that there was no basis for a finding of vicarious liability. The Court also dismissed the worker’s claim that the developer was liable under the Occupier’s Liability Act on the basis that the developer had exercised reasonable care and supervision of the project manager.

The Court did however proceed to find (in obiter) that the project manager was negligent on the basis that it had: failed to keep the roof clear of ice and snow and failed to ensure that an appropriate cover was designed and appropriately secured.

While the developer in this case was not found liable, this case serves as an important reminder of the importance of ensuring that the requirements under the OHSA are met, and notes that in certain cases, the failure to do so may expose parties which are outside of the protection of the workers compensation scheme to damages in a civil action.

Heikkila v. Apex Land Corporation, 2014 ABQB 589 (CanLII)

Owner/developer was not responsible for civil damages sustained in a workplace incident 20 years ago

Alberta Court imposes large fine for employer in calf-roping case

On October 31, 2013, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench released the sentencing decision in R. v. XI Technologies Inc., 2013 ABQB 651. A summary of the Alberta Court of Appeal’s decision affirming the employer’s convictions under Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act can be found here.

The Court of Queen’s Bench sentenced the employer to a fine of $275,000, inclusive of the victim fine surcharge. The Crown had proposed a fine of $400,000 inclusive of the victim fine surcharge. The employer’s counsel argued that figure was too high without specifying a range of what would be appropriate.

The Court considered a number of aggravating factors, including: the Legislature’s increase to the maximum fines for a first offence under the Occupational Health and Safety Act from $150,000 to $500,000; the goal of deterrence; and the fact that the accident had resulted in a fatality. The Court also considered a number of mitigating factors such as: the work environment was not the usual workplace and the activities the employee was performing were unique; the employer was not operating the machine to make a profit; the risk of death was not probable; the employer had taken sincere, albeit inadequate steps to ensure safety and so, although the employer was negligent, it was not knowingly non-compliant with safety standards or recklessly indifferent towards employee safety; the employer was genuinely remorseful; the employer did not have a prior record; and the employer had made a donation to fund a memorial bursary.

This decision confirms that Alberta courts will continue to impose significant fines for breaches of the OH&S legislation, particularly where those breaches result in a fatality. It also highlights that employers must remain vigilant to safety issues in unexpected circumstances where employees are operating outside of their core work functions and that the employer’s ultimate responsibility for safety cannot be delegated to employees or third parties. Finally, this case provides that while employer donations will be considered as a mitigating factor in sentencing, they will not be credited dollar-for-dollar.

R. v. XI Technologies Inc., 2013 ABQB 651 (CanLII)

Alberta Court imposes large fine for employer in calf-roping case

Changes to Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Legislation – Administrative Penalties and Tickets

Effective October 1, 2013, certain changes to Alberta’s occupational health and safety legislation came into force which allow an Occupational Health and Safety Officer to issue administrative penalties against any party regulated by the legislation (i.e. workers, contractors, employers, prime contractors and suppliers), for violating or failing to comply with the occupational health and safety legislation.

Administrative penalties can be up to $10,000 per violation per day. The amount of the administrative penalty in each case will be set by the Officer upon considering the seriousness of the contravention or failure to comply, the risk of harm resulting, and any other factors the Officer considers relevant. The person subject to the administrative penalty must be given at least 30 days to pay. Administrative penalties can be appealed to the Occupational Health and Safety Council. A person who pays an administrative penalty cannot be charged with an offense under the legislation with respect to the same contravention or non-compliance. The administrative penalty must be given within two years after the contravention or non-compliance. If unpaid, the administrative penalty can be enforced as a judgment.

In addition, as of January 1, 2014, further changes to the legislation will come into force which will enable Occupational Health and Safety Officers to issue tickets to workers and employers who are in contravention of certain listed provisions of the occupational health and safety legislation. The amount of the tickets will range from $100 to $500. These tickets will be essentially the same as traffic tickets – they are given on the spot upon a contravention of the law. A person receiving the ticket can plead not guilty and go to court.

This new system provides a middle ground in the enforcement spectrum which, until now, only allowed for either orders to comply or prosecutions through the courts. These new measures are intended to act as an additional tool to address non-compliance with the legislation.

Changes to Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Legislation – Administrative Penalties and Tickets