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B.C.'s Government Taking Action To Protect Workers

In the last few months, B.C. government departments have implemented a dizzying array of workplace rules designed to protect workers.
 
Readers of this column will be familiar with the new “working alone or in isolation” rules. The new rules comprise three distinct categories of workplace protection for employees who are working in circumstances where assistance would not readily be available in case of an emergency. 
 
The first of the new sets of rules applies to all employers. All employers must identify, eliminate, and control hazards before a worker is assigned to work alone or in isolation. And, they must develop and implement a procedure for checking the well-being of any worker who is assigned to work alone or in isolation.
 
The second set of rules applies to employers who have workers who are working alone or in isolation in retail premises between 10:00pm and 6:00am. If the worker will be alone, the employer must ensure the worker is physically separated from the public by a locked door or barrier. 
 
The third set of rules applies specifically to employers operating gas stations. Those employers must now have a prepay system for all fuel sold in gas stations and other refueling outlets (with the exception of marine fueling stations). 
 
There will also be changes implemented, at the beginning of May, to WorkSafeBC’s forestry regulations. Those new provisions will address the changing nature of B.C.’s forest sector and will provide better protection to workers in the areas of prime contractor authority, supervision and planning, as well as increasing safety standards when working in proximity to machinery.
 
The new forestry regulations will ensure prime contractors have the necessary qualifications. They will also ensure that there will be a falling supervisor for all manual falling activities. New provisions dealing with log hauling will address speed and impairment by fatigue, and the employers’ ability to keep current with new equipment and technology.
 
The Employment Standards Act will also be modified to enact new rules governing the activities of farm labour contractors. The rules will prohibit anyone from engaging the services of a farm labour contractor who is unlicenced.
 
They will allow the farm labour contractor’s licence to be suspended or cancelled for safety violations and they will provide for certain financial charges to the farm labour contractor if it is operating an unsafe vehicle while transporting labourers to the workplace.
 
Finally, B.C.’s Ministry of Health has enacted new, tougher, restrictions on smoking in and near the workplace. Effective March 31st, these new regulations ban smoking in all indoor work places and within 3 metres of public doorways (and windows or air intakes).
 
Collectively, these measures represent a concerted effort on the part of B.C.’s government departments to protect the safety of workers in our province. While all new safety measures bring with them certain costs and headaches for the employer, the protection of workers in vulnerable situations is surely worth those costs.
 
Employers wishing to become, or remain, current on the details of these and other workplace safety requirements should consult the informative websites of WorkSafeBC, the B.C. Employment Standards Branch, and the B.C. Ministry of Health.

 
Robert Smithson is a partner at Pushor Mitchell LLP in Kelowna practicing exclusively in the area of labour and employment law. For more information about his practice, log on to http://www.pushormitchell.com/.