On April 30, 2020, in partnership with the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, the Health and Safety Associations1 have released best practices for employers to implement in their workplaces as they gear up for re-opening their businesses.
The Ontario Government has released sector-specific guidelines to help businesses reopen safely.
In Ontario, employers have the duty to keep workers and work sites safe and free of hazards. Employers also have obligations to protect workers from hazards in the workplace as set out in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), its regulations and the directives coming from the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
The following are some common practices recommended for all employers to consider and implement in their workplace:
- Practicing physical distancing;
- Use technology for communication (text-messages, video or audio calling as opposed to in-person meetings);
- Regularly disinfect areas that workers may frequently use (e.g tables, desks, tablets, pens, door handles);
- Plan for sufficient tools or supplies to be at the workplace to avoid workers sharing supplies and recommend cleansing of shared tools immediately after use throughout the day (Especially for employers operating in the construction sector);
- Consider the total number of workers in the workplace and have staff work remotely as much as possible. Restrict access to building to only essential personnel;
- Consider limiting the number of entry points and using floor markings to show where people should move and how they should distance themselves;
- Consider changing the work layout, work schedule or job rotation to allow distance at start and end of work and during lunch and other breaks;
- Implement administrative protocols to limit interaction amongst staff by staggering shift times and break times;
- Consider job rotation to reduce the number of people doing tasks in the same place at the same time;
- Improve fresh air circulation as increased airflow from open doors and windows can reduce contaminant built up;
- Place barriers with open/close capability to limit interactions;
- Screen workers regularly for health issues. If anyone develops symptoms of COVID-19, implement procedures for reporting the illness and keeping the worker away from others.
Employers should establish policies and protocols that educates employees on how the workplace will operate and ensures that supervisors and workers are aware of their responsibilities to identify, report, and manage suspected cases of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.
Employers should establish an infectious disease preparedness and response plans that considers and addresses levels of risk associated with the workplace and specific job tasks. This plan should also include how the organization will operate during a pandemic, including sanitization protocols, equipment and resources, how employees report illness, how to ensure physical distancing and how work will be scheduled.
As the COVID-19 situation is changing rapidly, Ontario workplaces should proactively change their policies and protocols to ensure they can effectively continue to operate in a safe and healthy new normal.
1 Infrastructure Health and Safety Association, Public Service Health and Safety Association, Workplace Safety North and Workplace Safety and Prevention Services
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.