Controlling the Risk of COVID-19 Exposure

While we are learning more about COVID-19 each day, we have already built a great understanding on how to minimize the risks of exposure. In accordance with the advice of Provincial Health Officer, Bonnie Henry, businesses should consider the following hierarchy of controls to reduce risk of exposure:

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Who Should Come into the Workplace?

  • Implement a policy requiring anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 such as sore throat, fever, sneezing, or coughing to self-isolate at home for 10 days from onset of symptoms, as well as anyone advised by public health to self-isolate.
  • Prioritize the work that needs to occur at the workplace to help your business operate.

Working from Home

The last six weeks have seen many businesses hastily implement work from home policies. Should this be applicable to your business, be aware that health and safety roles, rights, and responsibilities are just as applicable for at-home workers as they are for more traditional workplaces. Learn more about health and safety responsibilities when working from home.

Physical Distancing and Other Preventative Measures

When the economy reopens in the near future, it’s likely elements of physical distancing will remain with us for the foreseeable future. Businesses can prepare themselves by implementing common sense solutions, such as the following:

  • If practicable, reconfigure the workplace to maintain appropriate distance between workers and customers.
  • Eliminate in-person team meetings or modify them to incorporate technology such as conference calling and online meetings.
  • Limit essential work travel, and eliminate all non-essential work travel.
  • Modify work processes and practices to encourage physical distancing, such as instructing workers to not greet one another or customers by shaking hands.

Cleaning and Hygiene

  • Ensure workers are provided with appropriate supplies, such as soap and water, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, nitrile gloves and garbage bags, and sufficient washing facilities.
  • Remind staff of effective personal hygiene practices. Add signage about best practices for personal hygiene for customers who may interact with your workers.
  • Remove shared items where cross-contamination is possible (e.g., shared coffee and water stations and snack bins).
  • Enhance cleaning and disinfecting practices in high contact areas like door and cabinet handles, keyboards, and light switches.
  • Incorporate end-of-shift wipe downs for all shared spaces.

Documentation and Training

  • Train your staff on changes you’ve made to work policies, practices, and procedures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and keep records of that training.
  • Ensure that workers can raise safety concerns. This may be through a worker representative in workplaces of 9 to 20 employees, or through a joint health and safety committee for workplaces of more than 20 employees. Employers with fewer than 9 employees must also have a way for workers to raise health and safety concerns at the workplace.

Employment Status, Work Sharing and Temporary Work

No matter what status your employees hold, the Workers Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulation still apply to your workplace. As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure a healthy and safe workplace, including reducing your workers’ risk of contracting and spreading the COVID-19 illness.

  • Before hiring temporary workers you should ensure they are not exhibiting signs of sickness and that they are not in violation of any mandatory self-isolation order either because they are waiting for COVID-19 related test results or because of travel activities. If you are hiring temporary foreign workers, review the Government of Canada’s Guidance for Employers of Temporary Foreign Workers Regarding COVID-19.
  • In addition to your regular new employee orientation, employers need to ensure adequate training is provided with regards to COVID-19 exposure risks and the prevention policies that you have in place.
  • Consider what kind of work records you need to maintain, particularly if your temporary employees are also working elsewhere. You may want to record the details of their other employment to help you assess any possible impact on their work and any steps you may need to take to mitigate potential risk.

Protecting Mental Health

With focus devoted to the public health and economic side of COVID-19, the impacts on mental health have gone under-reported in the media. COVID-19 has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health. During this time, it’s natural to feel anxiety, stress and uncertainty. It’s important to take measures to support mental well-being and health. See resources that can assist with maintaining mental health in the workplace during this time. Be compassionate with staff members. Everyone copes in their own way and it’s to be expected that productivity will drop in some cases.