On June 7, 2021, several regions of Quebec, including Montreal, saw their alert level change color as part of the provincial government's progressive reopening plan. Quebec no longer has regions in a red zone, and some regions have now shifted to a green zone. In addition, most of Quebec's major cities, including Montreal, Laval, Quebec City and Gatineau, are now in an orange zone.

In this context, the Commission des normes, de l'équité de la santé et de la sécurité au travail (hereinafter the "CNESST") has followed suit by adjusting the preventive measures applicable in workplaces according to the color of the alert level. These various adjustments will most likely come into effect in Montreal in the next few days. Indeed, the Quebec government has recently announced that all regions of Quebec will shift to the yellow or green zone as of June 14, 2021.

That said, several preventive measures will be maintained, regardless of the applicable alert level. In fact, hand sanitation, exclusion of symptomatic persons, compliance with respiratory etiquette, cleaning and disinfection of surfaces such as washrooms and lunchrooms as well as frequently touched surfaces during each work shift will remain mandatory. 

Below is an overview of the preventive measures that have been adjusted based on the alert level of the region in which the workplace is located.

Red and orange alert levels

For regions currently in a red or orange zone, all preventive measures remain the same. As such, working from home remains mandatory and employees are required to wear protective equipment (masks and eye protection). In addition, tools and equipment must be disinfected when they are shared.

Yellow and green alert levels

Work from home is recommended in a yellow zone, whereas a gradual return to the workplace is planned in workplaces located in a green zone. Despite this distinction, the preventive measures provided for by the CNESST are the same for both yellow and green zones.

In workplaces located in yellow and green zones, wearing a mask at all times is recommended rather than mandatory, both indoors and outdoors, as long as a 2-meter distance is maintained OR a physical barrier is installed. In other words, employees will have to maintain a 2-meter distance amongst each other OR be separated by a physical barrier OR wear a mask. Moreover, wearing eye protection is optional, unless required otherwise by the applicable regulatory requirements. In addition, disinfecting shared tools and equipment is also optional in yellow and green zones.

The CNESST has indicated that, when a measure is "optional" or "recommended", it is up to the employer to choose the measures it deems necessary to protect its employees against the risks of contamination. Therefore, employers may continue or cease to apply the "optional" or "recommended" measures they deem necessary to ensure the health and safety of their employees.

It should be noted that the CNESST has indicated that it does not intend to modify the Workplace Sanitary Standards Guides currently available on its website to reflect the adjustments described above. However, in order to facilitate the implementation of the adjustments, the CNESST has developed a summary table of the preventive measures applicable according to the alert levels. This document can be consulted here (French only). Moreover, to find out which alert level applies to a particular region, the Government of Quebec maintains a map of alert levels by region, which can be consulted here.

All in all, employers must be aware of the adjustments made to the preventive measures in order to continue their activities under conditions adapted to the sanitary situation, while protecting the health and safety of their employees.

We would like to acknowledge the participation of Félix-Antoine Pelletier, student, in the preparation of this post.

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.