British Columbia is tightening rules on age minimums for hazardous occupations. Employers should take note, particularly those in industries such as construction, forestry, animal processing, milling, metal processing or refining, oil and gas, power, and any other industry with potential for exposure to harmful materials.

As of January 1, 2023 changes to British Columbia’s Employment Standards Regulation will come into effect regarding minimum worker age for defined occupations. Specifically, the changes will set a minimum age of either 16 or 18 for hazardous work, with some exceptions.

When the changes come into effect, an employee in British Columbia must be at least 18 years of age to carry out the following:

  • tree felling and logging;
  • operating a chainsaw;
  • operating machinery used for processing in a fish, poultry or animal processing facility;
  • killing or scalding animals, or moving animals other than fish or poultry from a holding location to a location where they will be killed;
  • drilling or well servicing in the oil and gas industry;
  • power line construction work or maintenance work involving potential electrical hazards;
  • production process work in a paper mill, pulp mill, or wood processing facility;
  • production process work in a foundry, metal processing or metal fabrication operation, refinery, or smelter;
  • work in a confined space or underground;
  • work involving exposure to ionizing radiation, air contaminants, or asbestos that exceeds specified limits;
  • work in a silica process;
  • work where there is or may be a risk of exposure to potentially harmful amounts of RCS dust.

Also as of January 1, 2023, an employee in British Columbia must be at least 16 years of age to carry out construction work, silviculture, forest firefighting and work requiring the use of a fall protection systems.

Exceptions

The amendments carve out an exception to the minimum age requirements for trainees or apprentices who are registered under the Industry Training Authority Act. Employees encompassed by this exception will not be subject to the minimum age requirements for hazardous work. Additionally, the amendments contain a transitional provision that sets out that the hazardous work provisions will not apply to those who will reach the prescribed minimum age on or before April 1, 2023 if they were hired before the amendments came into force and their position and duties have not changed after January 1, 2023.

Key Takeaways for Employers

To ensure compliance, employers should confirm that all employees engaged in the specified types of hazardous work will either be the prescribed minimum age by January 1, 2023, are eligible for the trainee or apprentice exception, or will meet the requirements of the transitional provision.

Going forward, employers should ensure that, for positions involving hazardous work, the legislated minimum age requirement is clearly communicated to prospective employees and that appropriate steps are taken to verify that the requirement is met in the hiring process. Those employers that are faced with current employees that will not meet the requirement or otherwise fit into an exception or transitional provision are encouraged to contact legal counsel to evaluate options.

The author wishes to thank Sarah Hanson for her contributions in preparing this blog post.

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