This guide is for employers. Whether you are currently operating or planning for your workers to return to work, the guide will help you develop a plan to work safely. It will help prepare you to put controls into place to make the workplace safer for everyone.
You will use current public health and workplace health and safety information or guidance to help develop your plan.
To reduce the risk of passing on novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) at work, employers should:
You can use the COVID-19 safety plan template to create your plan. The safety plan is for you, your workers and other people who need to know about it.
Discuss and share your safety plan with everyone at work, including:
If possible, create, discuss and share your plan before workers return to the workplace. Review and update your plan regularly.
You are not required to send your plan to the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development for review or comment. The ministry will not review safety plans. However, during an inspection of your workplace, a ministry inspector could ask about your plan .
As an employer it’s your responsibility under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect a worker. This guide will help you plan how to do this.
The guide does not replace the Occupational Health and Safety Act and its regulations and should not be used as or considered legal advice. Health and safety inspectors apply the law based on the facts in the workplace.
It’s important that you talk to workers and your JHSC members or health and safety representatives, if any, for their input on the plan. Share the plan with all workplace parties when it is done. This will help ensure your workers and others understand how you plan to manage the risks of COVID-19.
Check the resources to prevent COVID-19 in the workplace for sector-specific information and examples of controls that apply to your type of workplace. These documents may be helpful as you develop your plan. Visit the webpage regularly to check for the latest information.
Make sure you continue to follow any provincial orders under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act or the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act and any local public health orders.
The first step to control risks in a workplace is to identify them. For COVID-19, the risks are related to how the virus spreads.
COVID-19 can be spread at the workplace in two main ways:
The risk of getting COVID-19 is higher if you:
The risk of severe health outcomes is not the same for all workers. The risk increases with age and is higher for people with certain medical conditions.
It is possible for COVID-19 to be spread by people who do not have any symptoms. Act as if everyone is infected when setting up controls.
Control measures are the steps you take to reduce the risks to your workers. With an infectious disease like COVID-19 your controls can help to break the chain of transmission of the virus.
Employers should implement a variety of measures to control potential exposure to COVID-19. Examples include:
In situations where one or more controls cannot be consistently maintained it is especially important that other controls are in place.
The hierarchy of controls (image and description below) can help you choose the right controls for your workplace. This applies to all workplace hazards, not just COVID-19.
The levels in the hierarchy of controls, in order from most effective to least effective, are:
When making your plan, always start by considering the most effective controls first. First, try to eliminate the hazard altogether. Where eliminating the hazard is not possible, use multiple engineering and administrative controls.
The higher the control appears in the diagram and the earlier it is in the list, the more effective it is. The first three types of controls are more effective because once in place they do not usually require additional action by a worker. The effective use of administrative controls and PPE requires workers and other people to implement them properly and consistently every time.
Even with the rapid and collaborative response to COVID-19, there are still many uncertainties about the disease. As new findings emerge, what we know about the risks and best practices for controls may change, so it is important to stay current. The safety plan approach allows you to incorporate new information as it becomes available.
Remove the risk of exposure entirely from the workplace. Having all workers stay home would eliminate COVID-19 risk from the workplace.
Replace a hazardous substance with something less hazardous (for example, replace one chemical with another). For an infectious disease such as COVID-19, substitution is not an option.
Make physical changes to separate workers from the hazard or support physical distancing, disinfecting and hygiene. For example, you could:
Make changes to the ways people work and interact, using policies, procedures, training and signage. For example, you could:
This is equipment and clothing worn by a worker to minimize exposure to hazards and prevent illnesses and infection. PPE is used to protect the wearer and can include such things as surgical/procedure masks and eye protection.
Correct use of PPE can help prevent some exposures, but it should not take the place of other control measures, for example, screening, hand hygiene, use of barriers and physical distancing where possible. PPE must be used alongside other control measures already in place.
Using masks as a control measure
A mask is a piece of equipment that covers the wearer’s nose, mouth and chin. It is fixedto the face with straps, ties or elastic, either behind the head or with ear loops.
For COVID-19 protection, masks can be used as workplace control measures in two ways:
Not all masks are suitable for both purposes. You need to consider how you will use the mask in your workplace and make sure to select a suitable type of mask. Cloth masks are not PPE.
How effective masks are as a control measure depends on:
To help you decide what is right for your workplace, see using masks in the workplace for more information.
There are six questions you should think through as you develop your COVID-19 workplace safety plan, as found in the COVID-19 safety plan template. The information in this document will help you to think through the issues as you develop a plan for the unique situation in your workplace.
Provide clear information and instruction to your workers. Make sure they know what they need to do to protect themselves and others. Ensure they know how to follow the work and hygiene practices in your plan, including all new safety measures.
Set up or use your current internal communication systems to provide frequent reminders and updates. Use a variety of ways to reach your workers, such as:
Some things to consider:
By keeping symptomatic workers and other people from entering, you can reduce possible transmission in your workplace. Know the symptoms to look for and plan for how you will screen workers and others who enter your workplace.
Make sure all workers know to stay home if they have symptoms that are new, getting worse or unexplained (for example, by an existing condition).
Screen all workers for COVID-19 symptoms and other risk factors (for example, close contact to known cases, recent international travel).
Screening involves collecting information about symptoms and interactions that may result in higher risks of transmitting COVID-19.
Based on this information, a decision is made about whether a person should be excluded from the workplace until they are further assessed and/or symptoms resolve.
There are two different types of screening:
Starting September 26, 2020, employers must actively screen every worker before they enter the workplace at the start of their shift as described in the instructions issued by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Make sure screeners receive information and instruction on how to perform this work safely and what to do if a person must be excluded from the workplace.
You can also:
COVID-19 can be spread by people who do not have symptoms. This is why it is very important to have effective control measures in the workplace.
Examples of controls to consider are provided below. You can find many other ideas in the sector-specific resources to prevent COVID-19 in the workplace.
To operate your business more safely and to keep it operating, you may need to make changes to the workspace and to the ways your work is done.
The most effective way to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission is to maintain physical distancing. Where possible, workers should continue to work from home and meet virtually until public health authorities advise otherwise.
To enable workers to maintain a physical distance of at least 2 metres from other people in the workplace, use a variety of engineering and administrative controls such as:
Using masks as source control involves having workers, visitors and clients in the workplace wear a mask to protect those around them. All employers should consider using source control masking combined with other control measures.
Masks are especially important indoors and help to reduce the risk in situations where physical distancing cannot be consistently maintained.
Source control masks should not be used as a substitute for physical distancing – both control measures lower risk and should be used together. Consider:
In some workplaces in Ontario, wearing a mask or face covering may be required by public health or other authorities. You should be aware of the most current:
Even with other controls in place including physical distancing and source control masking, there may be situations where PPE will be required. A surgical or procedure mask worn as part of PPE also works as source control and would normally meet any requirements for face coverings.
The risk of COVID-19 transmission is higher in more enclosed and crowded spaces. You should ensure that air-handling (HVAC) systems are maintained according to the manufacturer’s instructions and meet minimum American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standards.
Additional steps you can take:
If fans are needed for temperature control make sure you are using them as safely as possible.
The virus that causes COVID-19 may be transferred to surfaces or objects. Workers can be infected if they touch their face with contaminated hands.
Consider the policies and procedures you can put in place to make sure you are disinfecting and keeping the workplace as free of the virus as possible. The public health recommendation is to clean high-touch surfaces at least twice a day.
To reduce transmission:
The same everyday steps recommended by public health officials to stop the spread of COVID-19 are important in the workplace too. One of the most important things we can all do is to wash our hands often with soap and water.
Think about what you can do to make it easier for your workers to take these steps regularly at work. You can:
To determine when personal protective equipment (PPE) is needed in your workplace, you will need to assess all the relevant factors in the workplace. This includes how effective the other control measures you have in place are. Even with other controls in place, including physical distancing and source control masking, there may be situations where PPE will be needed.
Correct use of PPE can help prevent some exposures, but it should not take the place of other control measures – PPE must be used alongside other control measures already in place.
It’s important that any PPE workers use is appropriate for the purpose. The effectiveness of PPE depends on every person wearing it correctly and consistently. Make sure your workers are trained on the care, use and limitations of any PPE that they use.
The Chief Medical Officer of Health has provided direction to health care organizations about the minimum requirements for COVID-19 PPE.
Where PPE for COVID-19 is needed in non-health care settings:
Workers that wear PPE for protection against workplace hazards besides COVID-19 must continue to use that PPE as required. This includes gloves for new cleaning and disinfecting products that workers use because of COVID-19.
Supplies of some types of PPE are limited. Make sure you are using the right controls to protect your workers and only using appropriate PPE so there is enough available for other workers who need it.
There are steps that you will need to take if one of your workers, visitors or clients has symptoms that may be related to COVID-19 or is diagnosed with COVID-19:
If a worker calls in sick, informs you of symptoms or informs you they had close contact with someone with symptoms, have them take the self-assessment. Ask the worker to follow any recommendations given by the tool, including being tested and self-isolating.
If anyone shows symptoms in the workplace, they should return home and self-isolate immediately. If they cannot leave immediately, they should be isolated until they are able to leave. Have a plan in place to deal with this and train supervisors on how to handle the situation.
If the person is very ill, call 911 and let the operator know that they may have COVID-19.
Contact your local public health unit for guidance on what to do if someone develops symptoms at your workplace or you are told one of your workers has COVID-19. Public health will provide instructions and do contact tracing if needed.
To support contact tracing, have a system in place so you can provide information about which people had close interactions with an affected worker. This could include information such as:
Your local public health unit may require that:
Disinfect surfaces that may have been touched by the ill person as soon as possible. Read Public Health Ontario's COVID-19 fact sheet about cleaning and disinfection for public settings.
Specific direction for each situation is provided by your local public health unit based on provincial guidance on the management of cases and contacts of COVID-19. Follow the public health direction.
Workers should self-isolate if they either:
Close contacts may include people who have spent time less than two metres away from the infected person in the same room, workspace, or area without barriers or protective equipment and people living in the same home.
Some symptomatic workers may need to self-isolate for longer based on the advice of public health or their health care provider.
These timelines for self-isolation include time spent waiting for COVID-19 test results.
You must let workers know if they may have been exposed in the workplace.
You should give all workers information about the date and time of the potential exposure and where it took place. Don’t give out any information that might identify the infectious person.
You do not need to undertake contact tracing activities unless asked to do so by your local public health unit.
This duty to inform your workers is independent of any public health direction, although it may be fulfilled by steps taken under public health direction as part of contact tracing.
I you are advised that one of your workers has tested positive for COVID-19 due to exposure at the workplace, or that a claim has been filed with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), you must give notice in writing within four days to:
Additionally, you must report any occupationally acquired illnesses to the WSIB within three days of receiving notification of the illness.
You do not need to determine where a case was acquired. If it’s reported to you as an occupational illness, you must report the case.
Changes to work practices to prevent COVID-19 may affect the way you manage other risks in the workplace. For example, you may have controlled the risk of injury from lifting heavy items by having two people involved. This may not be possible while workers maintain physical distance.
It’s also possible that new procedures will bring new risks or challenges. For example, if you start using a new product for disinfection, you need to know what chemicals are in the product and how to use it safely. Workers may need new training.
Other plans and protocols you have in place may also need to be adapted for COVID-19. For example, how you will maintain physical distance during an emergency evacuation? What you will do if workers are told to self-isolate because of exposure to COVID-19?
Remote work may pose its own risks. This may include technological barriers, mental health concerns and ergonomic challenges.
New risks may be introduced by:
If your plan introduces shift work or splits teams that would normally work together, describe what steps you’ll take to:
Operating a business during the pandemic and recovery stages will involve different ways of working. Checking to see how your plan is working will help you find the best solutions for your unique situation and adapt to any changes.
You may want to assign a manager or management team to take charge of COVID-related issues, including training for supervisors and regular dialogue with supervisors, to make sure there is compliance with all protocols. Use existing incident reporting systems. Schedule regular times to review your plan and its effectiveness.
As the COVID-19 situation evolves what is right for your situation may change. Make sure to review and update your plan regularly.
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