During our recovery efforts, businesses and organizations in the CKL should be developing their own, customized workplace safety plan to continue to operate, or to re-open, during Ontario’s phased-in plan.
The Ontario government has now released a new guide to assist employers to develop and implement a workplace safety plan, including over 100 sector-specific health and safety plans to adopt and follow, covering most, if not all, workplaces in Ontario.
Below we explain how to create your own plan to protect your employees, maximize safety and minimize liability exposure for you and your businesses.
This is a step-by-guide to making and implementing your workplace safety plan, including six questions you should review and address for your own plan.
You can download a template (Word format) to create your own plan here:
Whether you are currently operating or planning for your workers to return to work, the new 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.
As part of every workplace safety plan, to minimize the risk of passing on novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) at work, employers should:
- screen workers
- support people with symptoms to self-isolate
- ensure people maintain a physical distance of 2 metres or more
- disinfect surfaces and objects
- support hand hygiene, particularly handwashing
- remind workers about good cough and sneeze etiquette and to avoid touching their face
- work with the health unit if any workers have COVID-19 or are exposed to someone with COVID-19
You can use the COVID-19 safety plan template to create your own, customized 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:
- health and safety representatives or members of joint health and safety committees (JHSCs)
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.
As an employer it’s your responsibility under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect a worker. This new 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.
STEP ONE – CHECK AND FOLLOW YOUR HEALTH AND SAFETY GUIDELINES PUBLISHED BY THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT:
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 Ontario’s online resources to prevent the virus in the workplace for sector-specific information and examples of controls that apply to your workplace specifically. These documents may be helpful as you develop your plan. Visit the webpage regularly to check for the latest information.
You can do that here:
STEP TWO – CHECK AND FOLLOW ALL PROVINCIAL EMERGENCY AND HEALTH UNIT ORDERS DURING THE PANDEMIC:
Make sure you continue to follow any provincial orders under Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act as well as any local public health orders.
For example, here is a link to the Ontario government’s most recent order for re-opening or continue to operate during Phase 2:
Here is a link to Ontario’s emergency orders issued to date:
Here is a link to our Health Unit’s section 22 order requiring self-isolation:
STEP THREE – UNDERSTAND AND EVALUATE THE RISKS OF COVID-19 IN YOUR OWN WORKPLACE:
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:
- person to person, by people who are in close contact
- by surfaces or objects, when people touch their face with contaminated hands
The risk of getting COVID-19 is higher if you:
- spend more time with potentially infected people
- work in closer proximity to others
- interact with more people
- work in more enclosed spaces (working indoors is riskier than working outdoors)
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.
STEP FOUR – CONTROL THE RISKS IN YOUR WORKPLACE:
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.
Use the hierarchy of controls
The hierarchy of controls 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:
- engineering controls
- administrative controls
- personal protective equipment (PPE)
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.
There are currently many uncertainties about COVID-19. As new findings emerge, the risks and best practices for controls may change, so it is important to stay current.
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:
- install plexiglass barriers to separate workers from customers
- remove unnecessary doors that many people would have to touch
Make changes to the ways people work and interact, using policies, procedures, training and signage. For example, you could:
- establish contactless curbside pickup
- create policies to limit the number of people in a space at one time
- schedule to stagger work shifts and breaks
- establish new cleaning and disinfection protocols
- provide education and training on proper hand washing technique
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
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.
PPE should only be used after other controls have been carefully considered and all feasible options implemented.
Public health recommends that people use a face covering (for example, non-medical mask, cloth mask) in public to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to other people when physical distancing may be a challenge or not possible.
Face coverings are not PPE and are not an appropriate substitute for physical distancing in the workplace.
They will not protect the people wearing them from being exposed to or getting COVID-19. Encouraging customers and other visitors to your workplace to wear face coverings can help to protect your workers. If workers choose to wear their own face coverings, this will not reduce the need for physical distancing.
STEP FIVE – REVIEW SAFETY QUESTIONS:
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.
Question 1: How will you ensure all workers know how to keep themselves safe from exposure to COVID-19?
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:
- posting notices in common areas
- virtual team meetings
- intercom announcements
Some things to consider:
- post information for workers and other people entering the workplace
- share information in all languages spoken by your workers, if possible
- provide information in ways that are easy to understand, like graphics, and use resources from the Ontario government
- remind workers about available social and mental health supports, and encourage them to use these resources
- share information to help your workers stay healthy while travelling between home and work
- train and re-train on procedures
Question 2: How will you screen for COVID-19?
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. Consider training for those who will be doing the screening.
Screen at the workplace
- screen all workers on arrival at work for COVID-19 symptoms and other risk factors (for example, close contact to cases, travel)
- actively screen by having someone ask the screening questions, where possible
- consider actively monitoring workers for symptoms more than once during their shift
- limit others who enter the workplace and put in place a similar screening process for those who must enter the workplace
- post clear signage with screening questions at all entrances
- if active screening of non-workers entering the workplace is not possible (for example, public transit, grocery stores), post signage asking people with symptoms not to enter
Encourage workers to self-monitor
- encourage workers to monitor their own symptoms at all times
- ensure workers know where to find the online COVID-19 self-assessment
- ask workers to use the tool at home if they have any symptoms and to follow the instructions
- ensure workers know who their workplace contact is and how to get in touch with them in case the self-assessment, public health or their health care provider suggests they self-isolate, or if they start to experience symptoms at work
Question 3: How will you control the risk of transmission in your workplace?
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.
Maximize physical distancing and separation
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:
- barriers, such as plexiglass, to maintain separation as a primary means of control
- scheduling and other administrative changes to reduce the number of people who must share the same space including during shifts, lunch and other breaks
- providing adequate space
- using available outdoor space whenever possible (for example, for meetings, breaks, client interactions such as curbside pick-up)
Reduce transmission from surfaces and objects
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:
- consider whether you need to clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and common areas more than twice a day
- assign tools, equipment and workstations to a single user if possible, or limit the number of users
- regularly clean and disinfect any shared equipment and tools, including between users
Support good hand and respiratory hygiene
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:
- post reminders to wash hands, use proper cough and sneeze etiquette and avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth
- provide ways to properly clean hands by providing access to soap and water and, if that is not possible, alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- ensure that workers can clean their hands frequently and whenever needed
- have all workers and visitors properly clean their hands before entering the workplace and after contact with objects and surfaces others may have touched
Personal protective equipment
Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used in combination with other controls. Where you cannot use engineering and administrative controls to maintain physical distance, personal protective equipment (PPE) will be needed.
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:
- it will likely consist of a surgical or procedure mask and eye protection (face shield or goggles)
- gloves will not usually be needed as they do not provide any more protection than hand washing or using hand sanitizer
- it will not include a respirator (N95s and equivalent alternatives). These are only required in specific circumstances, for example where aerosol generating medical procedures are performed.
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.
Question 4: What will you do if there is a potential case of, or suspected exposure to, COVID-19 at your workplace?
There are steps that you will need to take if one of your workers has symptoms which may be related to COVID-19, or is diagnosed with COVID-19:
Step 1: Exclude symptomatic workers from the workplace
If a worker calls in sick or informs you of symptoms, or 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 a worker shows symptoms in the workplace, they should return home and self-isolate immediately. If the worker 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 worker is very ill, call 911 and let the operator know that the person may have COVID-19.
Step 2: Contact public health
Immediately contact your local public health unit for guidance on next steps. 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:
- date and approximate length and frequency of interaction
- full names
- contact telephone numbers
- addresses (for workers) or the name of the visitor’s business
Step 3: Follow public health guidance
Your local public health unit may require that:
- other workers who were exposed are notified and sent home to self-isolate, self-monitor and report any possible COVID-19 symptoms
- the workplace be shut down while the affected workplace or area and equipment are disinfected
- other public health measures are implemented
Disinfect surfaces that may have been touched by the ill worker as soon as possible. Read Public Health Ontario’s COVID-19 fact sheet about cleaning and disinfection for public settings.
Self-isolation and return-to-work
Public health may require self-isolation for a minimum of 14 days for workers with symptoms, and for those who have had close contact with an individual with symptoms or a confirmed diagnosis.
Symptomatic workers may need to self-isolate for longer based on the advice of public health or their health care provider.
Step 4: Report to Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development
If 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:
- the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development
- the workplace’s joint health and safety committee or a health and safety representative
- the worker’s trade union (if applicable)
Additionally, you must report any occupationally acquired illnesses to the WSIB within three days of receiving notification of the illness.
Question 5: How will you manage any new risks caused by changes to the way you operate your business?
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:
- workers having been away from their work
- changes to processes and procedures
- use of temporary labour and inexperienced staff
- restarting activities and machinery that have been shut down
- stress and change – consider how this affects your workers’ mental health
If your plan introduces shift work or splits teams that would normally work together, describe what steps you’ll take to:
- manage the impacts of shift work, including fatigue, transport, childcare and the potential dilution of skills available within a split team or rostered workgroup
- ensure each team has access to the right skills and support to be able to work safely
Question 6: How will you make sure your plan is working?
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.
- How will your health and safety representatives or JHSC be involved in evaluating how well the plan is working? In health care workplaces the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representatives must be consulted.
- What is the best way to engage your workers and workplace parties? Ask them how they would like to participate in decision making and provide feedback. Remember it may not be possible for them to complete forms or attend meetings outside of work time.
- How will you communicate changes to processes, ensure all workers know about the changes and are trained to implement them?
- How often will you update and share new versions of your plan?
As the COVID-19 situation evolves what is right for your situation may change. Make sure to review and update your safety plan regularly!
Maximize safety; minimize harm and potential liability.
Call us if you need support.