Ontario Government Releases New COVID-19 Workplace Guide
On June 16, 2020 the Government of Ontario released a new general workplace guide to help employers who are reopening and assist employers in developing a COVID-19 safety plan. The guide is intended to help employers:
- Identify the risks for transmitting the virus through person-to-person contact and actions such as touching faces with hands that have been contaminated by contact with surfaces and objects;
- Determine what controls are needed to help mitigate risk, such as engineering controls like the installation of plexiglass to separate workers from customers, administrative controls limiting the number of workers in a space at one time, and personal protective equipment including face and eye protection;
- Create a workplace safety plan based on the identified risks and appropriate controls specific to the employer’s workplace;
- Implement the plan in the workplace, and review and update it as the situation evolves; and
- Communicate the actions being taken to workers and other people entering the workplace.
The Ontario Government has also created a template COVID-19 safety plan to assist employers who are reopening their businesses. This safety plan should be communicated with employees, unions, supervisors, health and safety representatives or members of joint health and safety committees, contractors, and suppliers. Employers are not required to send this safety plan to the Ministry of Labour.
The Ontario Government’s workplace guide contains information on the use of face coverings and protective equipment, as well as recommendations to minimize the risks associated with COVID-19. Employers are being encouraged to:
- 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; and
- work with their local public health unit if any workers have COVID-19 or are exposed to someone with COVID-19.
The Ontario Government has provided a “hierarchy of controls” to be put in place by employers. Elimination of COVID-19 workplace risks is the most effective, which is achieved by having all employees work from home where possible. Other options to reduce risk are: implementing engineering controls, such as removing unnecessary doors in the workplace that many people have to touch; or administrative controls, such as staggering work shifts and breaks, establishing new cleaning and disinfection protocols, limiting employees in the same space, etc.
Personal Protective Equipment (“PPE”) should only be used after other controls have been carefully considered and all other feasible options to reduce risk have been implemented. The Ontario Government has stated face coverings, including non-medical masks, are not PPE and are not an appropriate substitute to physical distancing in the workplace.
The workplace guidance also includes steps employers need to take if a worker has symptoms, which may be related to COVID-19, or is diagnosed with COVID-19. Employers need to exclude symptomatic workers from the workplace and contact the local public health unit for guidance regarding next reporting steps. Public Health Ontario may conduct contact tracing if needed. Public health guidance and other applicable Ministry of Labour reporting requirements should be followed.
Employers are encouraged to routinely update and review their COVID-19 safety plan.
Members of our Labour & Employment Group can assist with any questions about Ontario’s workplace guidance, or any of your COVID-19 related questions.