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Occupational Health and Safety Rules Pose a Hazard to Small Businesses

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Amber Ruddy

Did you know that although new Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) rules have been in effect since June 1, 2018, the Alberta government still hasn’t released sufficient details for businesses to be in compliance?

The new onerous policies require mandatory health and safety training for employees. However, the province has yet to release a full list of accredited training providers. Business owners may even face penalties for not following the letter of the law.

According to a spring survey conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), only 12 per cent of Alberta business owners indicated they received adequate information about how changes to health and safety regulations affect their business. In addition, three-quarters (77 per cent) noted they are worried they may be unfairly penalized by health and safety authorities.

The government is moving so fast on their complete legislative overhaul in the labour department, they don’t even have time to get the required details together five months after these rules became mandatory.

The question remains: will the Alberta government commit to focusing on education to help businesses comply before resorting to punitive ticketing? Officers investigating contraventions of the OHS Act have a wide variety of fines and administrative penalties at their disposal.

The new policies require the appointment of a health and safety representative in businesses with five to 19 employees. That representative is required to take additional employee training on workplace safety for a minimum of 16 hours (or two shifts worth, whichever is greater) per year.

Businesses employing 20 or more people must establish a joint worksite health and safety committee. This committee must have at least four members, half of which must represent workers and must meet at least quarterly. The joint worksite health and safety committee either has to meet during regular work hours or be paid for additional time spent on their duties in this role.

In Alberta, 94 per cent of entrepreneurs surveyed believe employment laws should be more flexible for small employers to better support small businesses. Small business owners are well placed to understand the unique needs in their workplace and act accordingly.

When new policies are introduced, we need to ensure entrepreneurs are better accounted for. That is why CFIB is asking the government to implement a small business lens to mitigate the impact on business owners. The lens would require thorough consultation with small business owners, followed by transparent economic analysis of how the policy will impact local business. The government would also be required to consider implementing measures to help protect small businesses if they may face hardship.

If something is made mandatory, the supporting details must be available – or else it’s just another regulatory obstacle to overcome. It’s time the Alberta government considered the health of the business community in their policy pronouncements.

Amber Ruddy is the director of provincial affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. She can be reached at amber.ruddy@cfib.ca. Follow her on Twitter @aruddy.

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