COVID-19: FAQs on Workplace Health and Safety

Peninsula Team

June 19 2020

As you update your health and safety policies for COVID-19, you may have queries unique to your industry. There is no rulebook on how to deal with a new epidemic, and public health agencies have been updating their guidelines as we learn more about COVID-19. 

Here are some commonly asked questions about workplace health and safety that you may have as well:

What steps should I take to secure my office premises?

The first step is a risk assessment. It will help you review and update your work procedures and existing safety controls. Social distancing measures and a rigorous cleaning and disinfection policy should be the backbone of your health and safety plan. For more information, read our latest blog on safety measures to secure office premises

What should I do if an employee refuses to come back to work due to COVID-19? 

COVID-19 is a workplace hazard. Under the Canada Labour Code, workers can refuse dangerous work if they have reasonable grounds to believe that it threatens their health and safety.

You should speak to the employee and find out if they have any special health condition that puts them at greater risk from COVID-19. 

You should also review the COVID-19 health and safety measures in place in your office. If the worker still refuses to return to work, you can request the Occupational Health and Safety authority in your province to probe the matter and hold an inspection.

You can read more on this subject in our blog on Employee Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

What kind of communications should I convey to employees and clients?

You must communicate your return to work plan and updated health and safety policies to your employees. 

It is advisable to let your clients know about the safety procedures and changes you will be putting in place when you reopen. You could apprise them of the changes to expect (for example, meet by appointment only, social distancing measures, face mask policy) via email or a phone call. You could also keep them posted via regular updates on your social media channels.

If several employees share the work vehicles, what safety measures should I follow?

We recommend that you take the following steps:

  1. It is ideal to have one person per vehicle. If that is not possible, have one employee in the front and one in the back. 
  2. You could also install engineering controls, such as Plexiglass barriers, in the vehicle. But ensure they do not infringe on the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and provide clear visibility to the driver. They should also be of a material that can be regularly cleaned and disinfected.
  3. Use face masks where social distancing is not possible. 
  4. Follow a rigorous cleaning and disinfecting schedule. Use proper and adequate cleaning products to disinfect door handles and knobs, the steering wheel, etc. 
  5. If several employees are using the vehicle, disinfect it after each use. Keep a log of all the drivers. This may help in contact tracing in case there is a COVID-19 case later.  

Should I ask my staff to wear face masks?

Face masks may be helpful in workplaces where social distancing is not possible, and close contact with the public or among the employees is unavoidable.

You should conduct a COVID-19 exposure risk assessment while considering a policy on use of face masks in the workplace. 

Read more in our blog on the types of face masks and the precautions you must follow while wearing them. 

Can I check the temperatures of my staff?

Temperature checks may not be a foolproof way of testing for COVID-19. It is possible that a person may not have a fever and still carry the virus. You also require an employee’s prior written consent for temperature checks. They could be classified as medical information, which is private and confidential.

A better way to monitor symptoms in the workplace is to get your staff to fill out a symptom assessment questionnaire before every shift. 

Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario also provide online assessment tools, which your employees can use to self-monitor on a regular basis.

What should I do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19 at work?

We recommend the following steps:

  1. Ask the affected employee to go home right away to reduce the risk of transmission. 
  2. Review office spaces where the employee has been since the onset of symptoms.
  3. Thoroughly clean and disinfect the said areas immediately. Remember to clean and disinfect touch points such as door handles, elevator buttons, desks, chairs, coffee machine, any computer or electronic equipment, etc.  
  4. Ensure the worker promptly contacts the public health authority in your province. Public Health will speak to the affected employee and prepare a list of names of people who may be at risk. These individuals will be contacted and asked to either:
  5. a) Monitor their symptoms.
  6. b) Self-isolate for 14 days from the onset of symptoms in the employee who tested positive.
  7. Do not share the name of the affected worker with the rest of the staff. You should, however, let your employees know that there has been a COVID-19 case in the workplace. Apprise them of the measures you have implemented to ensure their safety. Advise them to use your questionnaire to self-monitor, even if they have not been in contact with the affected employee. 

Your employee will be on temporary medical leave till they recover. Make sure the affected employee has medical clearance before they rejoin work. 

What happens if my workplace is inspected by the Ministry of Labour?

If an inspection team shows up at your workplace, you cannot turn them away. Be transparent and respectful. If they give you an order or shut you down, you have to comply. You cannot reopen till you have proper protocols in place (there may probably be a second inspection prior to reopening after being shut down).

The inspection team will check your workplace to see if you are following Public Health guidelines on COVID-19. “Make sure you have someone from your staff taking notes, and walking the inspectors through the workspace in case any procedures need explaining,” says Hope McManus, Peninsula Canada’s Head of Health and Safety. 

Inspectors will be checking for appropriate behavioural posters as well. Ensure you have signage on social distancing and hand hygiene posted throughout your premises for staff and customers.   

Need help preparing your workplace according to Public Health guidelines on COVID-19?

For advice on health and safety policies and to prepare for Ministry inspections during the pandemic, call our experts at: 1 (833) 247-3652.

Suggested Resources