Open Letter to Minister Christina Gray

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Dear Minister Gray,

I am writing on behalf of the Alberta Hospitality Safety Association (AHSA).  We are a small association with a mandate to provide affordable, quality health and safety training and resources primarily for the hotel industry, which funds us through a small WCB levy.  We agree that a review of Alberta’s Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) system is a long time in coming, and are grateful for an opportunity to provide feedback on behalf of the industry we serve.

It is no secret that much of Alberta’s OHS Act is outdated and often out of step with the legislation in other jurisdictions.  The definition of a serious injury/accident (i.e. reportable incident), for example, should be updated to include those serious, often life-altering injuries that may not require a stay of more than 2 days in hospital.  Alberta’s failure to legislate OHS Committees/OHS representatives has also resulted in a missed opportunity long recognized by other Canadian jurisdictions. 

The AHSA would not, however, support changes that specifically legislate health & safety management systems.  The size and scope of Alberta OHS would have to increase significantly to adequately monitor and measure employer compliance with such a requirement, thereby expanding, not reducing, Alberta Labour’s administrative burden.  The substantial costs associated with this would ultimately fall on employers, adding to an already expected rise in WCB premium rates due to anticipated WCB system changes.  

We would also counsel caution with regards to making the Certificate of Recognition (COR) program anything more than the voluntary process it has always been. We agree with the WCB Review Panel’s observations that the cost of participation is excessive for many employers, and would add that COR has not proven its effectiveness in engaging smaller employers, and those operating in less than high hazard industries.  Compelling employers to invest in a one-size-fits-all approach would mean tying up resources that may be better spent on an industry initiative or employer-specific program that may be more effective.

We respectfully submit that adding an OHS compliance element to the COR audit would also be challenging. This change was considered by the Certifying Partner group during a recent review of the audit standard. The group had also considered whether we should add program effectiveness questions to the audit.  It was agreed, however, that neither change was workable, primarily because OHS legislation reflects only the minimum requirements for workplace health and safety. The COR audit asks employers to go above that minimum standard. Concerns about auditor competency to interpret legislation and make judgements about the “effectiveness” of an employer’s system also played a part in this decision.  The AHSA would add that the liability issues associated with rendering an “opinion” in these matters will make it even more difficult than it currently is to recruit Peer and Internal Auditors to fill the demand for audits across the province.     

With regards to rebalancing internal responsibility systems, our experience has been that most employers sincerely want to do the right thing for their employees.  Where this is not occurring, it is more often a lack of understanding than a lack of will.  The AHSA and other safety associations in the province do their best to provide their members with awareness of their OHS responsibilities, but a more concerted effort from Alberta Labour to actively promote legislative requirements would be very welcome.  Better promotion of free resources developed by the government would also be helpful to ensure employers and workers are aware of them. 

Lastly, we want to acknowledge that the province’s employers already assume a great degree of responsibility for everyone who works on their work sites.  In addition, they have the duties “to ask” and “to accommodate.”  We respectfully request that any proposals that would add to this burden be carefully considered to avoid implementation of an overly autocratic system of employer oversight that would be undesirable to both management and workers.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit our feedback as part of Alberta’s OHS system review.  We hope you find some value in our perspective.  

Best regards,

Lena Cimmarrusti, BA MA

Executive Director

Alberta Hospitality Safety Association

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(12 February 2018)

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