The New Measure
In response to the growing threat of COVID-19 variants, the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (hereinafter the "CNESST") has announced that, as of Thursday April 8, 2021, it will require that medical masks be worn continuously indoors in workplaces. This new requirement will be applicable throughout Quebec. It is part of a precautionary approach and follows on from the initiatives taken by the CNESST since the beginning of the pandemic.
The continuous wearing of a medical mask or a mask certified by the Bureau de la normalisation du Québec (hereinafter the "BNQ") is a complementary protective measure to be respected indoors in order to limit the spread of the virus and its variants, in addition to physical distancing and the presence of physical barriers. According to the CNESST, this new measure will reduce the presence of the virus in work environments and help ensure that activities carried out in the workplace can be completed as safely as possible from a health perspective given the current context.
For outdoor work, a medical mask or BNQ certified mask must be worn if interactions with co-workers within two meters are likely to occur.
In situations where continuously wearing a medical mask may not be possible for health and safety reasons, or where not being able to see a person's lips may interfere with communication, comprehension or learning, the continuous wearing of a medical mask will not be required. The CNESST will mandate a risk assessment and analysis in those specific cases, and additional mandatory criteria will be considered, such as:
- Physical separation/distancing of more than two meters;
- Limitation of mask-free periods; and
- Optimization of mechanical or natural ventilation, as applicable.
In order to facilitate the implementation of this new obligation, the CNESST published a new guide entitled Mesures de contrôles dans les milieux de travail en contexte d'apparition de variants sous surveillance rehaussée (available here). This guide outlines the different choices of personal protective equipment (hereinafter "PPE") that workers may use, and it lists different types of protective equipment available in the context of the pandemic and explains how each piece of equipment should be used.
The choice of the appropriate PPE for the workers' tasks depends on the context as well as several factors.
In general, when workers are required to interact with another person, they must wear a mask with recognized effectiveness and eye protection. Masks with recognized effectiveness are medical masks, masks certified by the BNQ and respiratory protection devices.
In the course of their duties, it may be necessary for workers to wear different types of PPEs which are different but nonetheless suited to the risks which are present in the workplace, such as an N-95 mask or a respiratory protection device. In that regard, please refer to the list of the different protection equipment types available in the context of the pandemic drawn up by the CNESST in its new guide.
As a reminder, in addition to providing PPE to their employees, employers must ensure that the equipment is worn, maintained and stored properly. Employers must also ensure that their employees are trained in the safe wearing and removal of PPE, as well as in its maintenance.
The author would like to acknowledge the support and assistance of Thomas Paci, articling student at law.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.