On July 1, 2021, British Columbia enthusiastically took the next step in its four-step COVID-19 Restart Plan. The transition to Step 3 brought several changes, including the transition for employers to move away from the previously required COVID-19 Safety Plan to the now required Communicable Disease Plan ("CDP").
WorkSafeBC has published detailed guidance for employers on what is expected in a CDP, including a Communicable Disease Prevention: A Guide for Employers as well as new Guidelines for the Workers Compensation Act on communicable disease prevention at work.
Although many of the expectations for employers in a COVID-19 Safety Plan continue to apply in a CDP, including implementing procedures to prevent employees from attending work when symptomatic, maintaining healthy hygiene practices and a clean working environment, ensuring adequate ventilation, and supporting staff receiving vaccinations, there are several key differences in the transition, including the following:
- Unlike with COVID-19 Safety Plans, CDPs do not need to be written, posted, or approved by WorkSafeBC;
- Although employers remain free to continue to perform daily health checks of their workforce as part of their own safety planning, employers will no longer be required to perform these checks. Employers are still required, however, to maintain policies and practices to ensure that sick workers avoid entering the workplace;
- Employers are no longer required to limit the number of customers and workers in their workplace, but where an elevated risk of transmission of a communicable disease exists, employers are encouraged to follow public health advice in managing the risk (which may include revisiting occupancy limits, either on the employer's own initiative or on complying with any new occupancy limits set by health officials);
- Although employers are free to continue to implement mask policies for their workplace, employers are no longer required to mandate mask-wearing by workers or customers. Employers are still advised, however, to follow public health orders with respect to masks considering the role they play in transmission prevention;
- Directional arrows in the workplace are recommended but are no longer required; and
- Employers may remove physical barriers and distancing protocols required under COVID-19 Safety Plans.
Depending upon their industry, some employers must also maintain Exposure Control Plans, which include additional workplace safety requirements on transmission mitigation. Workplaces requiring these additional plans include physicians' offices, medical and dental offices and laboratories, nursing homes, fire and rescue services, and schools.
In sum, the guiding principle behind the CDP is the reduction of workplace transmission of COVID-19 and other communicable diseases. During times of elevated risk of transmission in the workplace, employers must adjust their CDP accordingly, which may involve reinstating protocols previously found in their COVID-19 Safety Plan.
Regardless of what each employer ultimately decides to include in their own CDP, the responsibility to stay up to date on public health information lies universally with employers.
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