WorkSafeBC publishes explanatory documents called “Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines” on every part of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation and many sections of the Workers Compensation Act and Policy. The guidelines provide additional information on the Regulation and the Act.
Are the guidelines “law”?
The exact meaning of what is and is not “law” can be confusing. Strictly speaking, guidelines are not “enacted” under a power conferred under the Workers Compensation Act, meaning they do not meet the definition of an “enactment”. This is in contrast to Act, Regulation, and Policy, all of which are enactments.
Further, the guidelines, unlike the Act, Regulation, and Policy, do not generally set out requirements that you have to follow, but simply provide information about requirements contained in the Act, Regulation, or Policy.
In some cases, the Regulation will require an employer to meet a standard or practice “acceptable to the Board”, without specifying what that standard or practice is. These types of sections are problematic, as it leaves employers in the dark about what is in fact required. In a perfect world, an employer should be able to read the law, such as the Regulation, and understand what they have to do.
Instead of removing these problematic sections, WorkSafeBC will sometimes identify the “standard” that it accepts in a guideline. This may be done by pointing to a CSA or ANSI standard, or by spelling out what WorkSafeBC accepts in the guideline, rather than the Regulation.
When a guideline does this, officers can enforce the particular section of the Regulation based on a failure to comply with the standard identified in the guideline. Even here, the guideline is not itself enforceable, and an employer will not be cited for violating the guideline – however, a failure to meet the standard set out in the guideline will be treated as a violation of the particular section of the Regulation.
Should I comply with a guideline?
Even if a guideline is not enforceable, it’s good practice to comply with the recommendations in guidelines. Officers who inspect your workplace will more than likely refer to the guideline to determine if you are in compliance and will often defer to the interpretations of the requirements that are set out in the guidelines. Further, if you are following the guideline, and an officer adopts an interpretation that is contrary to the guideline in order to find you in violation, that may be a basis to overturn the order on a review.