New N.W.T. safety regulations include harassment, violence

On June 1 the Northwest Territories new Occupational Health and Safety Regulations came into effect.

Regulations do not often attract a lot of attention; however, this regulation contains the bulk of the OHS rules which are enforced through the safety act. This regulation contains several new employer obligations, and may impose new costs on employers who work in the N.W.T.

Nunavut employers should also pay attention. A similar regulation will be passed in Nunavut as soon as the Nunavut legislation can be changed to accommodate it.

Harassment protection 
The new regulation includes a new section on harassment that regulates comments or conduct towards others at a work site. This section prevents workers from conducting themselves in ways that they know (or ought to reasonably know) is unwelcome by another worker or is a threat to the health or safety of other workers at a work site.

Harassment includes repeated comments, displays, action or gestures and includes a single serious occurrence of a comment or action that is harmful to worker health or safety. This definition is more far reaching than the generally accepted definition of harassment.

Employers are required to:

•ensure the definition of harassment is brought to the attention of its workers
•make every reasonable effort to ensure no workers are subject to harassment by others
•implement a confidential investigative process for reporting harassment that complies with the regulations provisions.

Workplace violence provisions 
The new regulation also regulates violence in the workplace. Employers are responsible for implementing a written policy that specifically deals with potential violence at work sites where violence has occurred or could reasonably be expected to occur.

Some examples of information that an employer is required to include in its policy are:

•Identification of positions at the work site that could reasonably be expected to be exposed to violence.
•Reporting procedures for workers who are exposed to violence in the workplace.
•Recommendations or referrals for post-incident treatment or counselling for workers exposed to violence.
•Commitment to provide training programs for workers to recognize, reduce and respond to violence in the workplace.

Occupational health and safety policy
The new regulation imposes a duty on all employers to create an OHS program for their employees if the employer employs 20 workers or more in the N.W.T.

Employers are required to generate a policy with respect to the protection and maintenance of the health and safety of workers, both employees and non-employees (including contractors or employees of other employers) who may be working on the employer's work site, identifying hazards that could endanger workers at the work site through a hazard recognition program and install measures, including procedures to respond to an emergency, among other duties.

More robust occupational health and safety committee
Another major change in the new regulation is the emphasis on the occupational health and safety committee. The regulation has a much more comprehensive provision devoted to this committee.

It states that an employer shall establish a committee at a work site where 20 or more workers work or are likely to work for more than 90 days; or if so directed by the chief safety officer. Employers that are required to establish a committee shall ensure that the workers chosen to be members of the committee represent the health and safety concerns of all workers at the work site. If a work site has fewer than 20 workers and there is no committee, then the employer shall designate at least one worker as an occupational health and safety representative for all the workers at that work site.

The requirements for each committee are quite detailed. These requirements include:

•ensuring the names of all members of the committee are readily accessible to the workers at the work site
•establishing rules for committee meetings, including rules on quorum and voting
•specifying the frequency of meetings and requiring that meetings occur at least every three months
•recording, posting and retaining committee meeting minutes and sending these minutes to the chief safety officer,
•appointing of co-chairpersons
•the committee's ability to inspect the work site.

It is clear that the new regulation provisions are written to ensure that occupational health and safety committees become fixtures in each workplace.

Glenn Tait is a partner at McLennan Ross in Yellowknife. He can be reached at (867) 766-7676 or [email protected] This article was co-authored by law students Ainslie Fowler, Richard Wong and Mustafa Farooq.