Before I went to the Crown’s office, the “OHS Water Cooler Basics” seminar was one of the most popular seminars that I used to offer. Why Water Cooler Basics? Well, if I had to guess, I’d say it was that the focus of the seminar was to get people within an organization talking. And thinking. And it most certainly seemed to do that.
Now that I’ve left the Crown’s office, this particular seminar is an initiative that I am looking to continue. With the changes that have been ushered in through ticketing and administrative penalties, the timing couldn’t be more appropriate. As employers take steps to address, and implement policies in respect of same, it is an ideal time to ensure that their workers are also armed with the knowledge they are required to possess under the OHS Legislation. Knowledge that is necessary not just to keep them from breaching the ticketable provisions, but knowledge that is necessary to ensure the employer is fulfilling its duty under the OHS Act.
We often hear about the steps that employers are taking to ensure the safety and competency of their workers, but very little about the education process that must be undertaken in order to comply with Section 2(1)(b) of the OHS Act, which places an onus on employers to ensure that workers are not only competent to perform the tasks they are assigned to, but also aware of their responsibilities and duties under the OHS Legislation. Ensuring that workers are competent to operate a particular piece of equipment, for example, is not enough for the employer to fulfill this statutory requirement. Workers must also receive instruction on their duties and obligations to, for example, refuse work, secure the scene of an accident, and provide statements to and otherwise cooperate with WHS investigators. Similarly, workers need to appreciate that although the OHS Legislation is in large part directed toward employers, there are specific provisions relating solely to them and their performance; the onus of ensuring a safe worksite is on all parties, not just the employer.
While no one would question that “safety is everyone’s concern”, when it comes to educating parties on what that saying actually means, and what all it entails (both in a practical and legal sense), the burden clearly falls on the shoulders of the employer. Nevertheless, despite this clear statutory requirement, it is surprising just how many workers remain unaware of the existence of the OHS Legislation, let alone their duties and obligations under it. Sure, thanks in large part to recent media attention, a lot more workers recognize that they can now be held liable…but are you, as an employer, taking the time to explain where that liability comes from, and what it actually means? Are you fulfilling your duty under s. 2(1)(b) of the OHS Act? Canvass your workers. Are they aware of the OHS Legislation in effect in Alberta, and what it means for them…or is this an area within the overall training and education process, that’s been somewhat overlooked?