Ontario Government Updates COVID-19 Workplace Safety Guidance

Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (“MOLTSD”) has recently modified and added new guidance to employers and workplace parties as lockdown orders continue. Here are the latest changes and reminders to assist parties in developing COVID-19 workplace safety plans, as well as links to guidance to help control exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace during meal and break times. Further guidance to assist in understanding COVID-19 self-isolation and return to work requirements has also been provided and is linked here.

COVID-19 Safety Plans

Pursuant to Ontario Regulation 82/20: Rules for Areas in Stage 1, made under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, all businesses permitted to remain open are required to prepare and make available a safety plan. The safety plan must describe the measures and procedures which have been implemented or will be implemented to reduce the transmission risk of COVID-19, and describe how the requirements set out under O. Reg. 82/20 will be implemented, including through screening, physical distancing, use of masks or face coverings, cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces and objects, and the wearing of personal protective equipment. While employers are not required to send their safety plans to the MOLTSD, an inspector or provincial officer may ask to review a safety plan during an inspection of the workplace.

The full current Safety Plan guide can be found here.

Developing a COVID-19 Safety Plan

  • Discuss and share safety plans with workers, unions, supervisors, health and safety representatives or members of the joint health and safety committees (“JHSC”), contractors, and suppliers.
  • Consult sector-specific resources and information for examples of controls which may apply to your workplace.  
  • Understand risks related to COVID-19, for instance:  
    • How COVID-19 can be spread at the workplace.
    • Key risk factors for COVID-19 transmission, including prolonged exposure, close proximity, crowded places, closed spaces, and forceful exhalation.
  • Control COVID-19 risks in the workplace, for instance through:
    • Screening, physical distancing and barriers, good ventilation, frequent cleaning and disinfection of surfaces, source control masking, and personal protective equipment.
  • Consider the use of a hierarchy of controls (in order from most effective to least effective):
    • Elimination:
      • Remove the risk of exposure entirely from the workplace, for instance, by having everyone work from home.
    • Substitution:
      • MOLTSD notes that substitution is not an option for infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
    • Engineering controls:
      • Implement physical changes including ventilation or changes which support physical distancing and hygiene, i.e. installing plexi-glass barriers to separate workers from customers and removing unnecessary doors which many people would touch.
    • Administrative controls:
      • Implement policies, procedures, training, and signage relating to:
        • establishing contactless curbside pickup, limiting the number of people in a space at one time, scheduling stagger work shifts and breaks, new cleaning and disinfection protocols, education and training on proper hand washing technique, and setting up a screening process.
    • Personal protective equipment:
      • Personal protective equipment may include surgical/procedure masks and eye protection.
      • This should not take the place of other control measures such as screening and physical distancing.

Safety Plan Questions

  • MOLTSD suggests considering six (6) questions in developing a workplace safety plan:

1. How will you ensure all workers know how to keep themselves safe from exposure?

  • Provide clear information and instruction to workers to ensure they know what to do to protect themselves and others, and ensure they know how to follow work and hygiene practices in your plan.

2. How will you screen for COVID-19?

  • Ensure all workers know to stay home if they have symptoms that are new, getting worse, or unexplained.
  • Use signage and encourage workers to self-monitor.
  • Screen all workers for COVID-19 symptoms and other risk factors.
  • Employers must actively screen every worker before they enter the workplace at the start of their shift, as described by the instructions issued by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
  • Active screening refers to the results of a screening assessment being reviewed to determine whether the person may enter the workplace.
    • Active screening may be done in person at the workplace, or remotely prior to entry.
    • Actively screen each person entering the workplace for work purposes, including workers, volunteers, suppliers, and contractors.
    • This should occur prior to or when the person arrives at the workplace at the start of their shift or visit.
    • A screener (or automated system) should advise anyone who does not pass the screening that they may not enter the workplace, to go home to self-isolate immediate, and to contact their healthcare provider or Telehealth Ontario to find out if they need a COVID-19 test and for further instructions.

3. How will you control the risk of transmission in the workplace?

  • It is important to have effective control measures in the workplace, which may involve:
    • maximizing physical distancing and separation;
    • source control masking;
    • ventilation and airflow;
    • reducing transmission from surfaces and objects;
    • supporting good hand and respiratory hygiene; and
    • personal protective equipment.

4. What will you do if there is a potential case of, or suspected exposure to, COVID-19 at your workplace?

  • Step 1: Exclude the symptomatic person from the workplace.
  • Step 2: Contact public health:
    • To support contract tracing, have a system in place to provide information about which persons had close interactions with the affected worker.
  • Step 3: Follow public health direction:
    • Public health may require that: other workers 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; and/or other public health measures are implemented.
  • Step 4: Inform any workers who may have been exposed:
    • Employers must let workers know if they may have been exposed, Employers should not give out any information which may identify the infectious person.
    • You do not need to undertake contact tracing activities unless asked to do so by your local public health unit.
  • Step 5: Report to the MOLTSD and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (“WSIB”):
    • If advised that a worker has COVID-19 due to exposure at the workplace, or that a claim has been filed with the WSIB, you must give notice in writing within four (4) days to:
      • the MOLTSD;
      • the workplace JHSC or health and safety representative;
      • the worker’s trade union (if applicable).
    • You must report any occupationally acquired illnesses to the WSIB within three (3) days of receiving notification of illness

5. How will you manage any new risks caused by changes to the way you operate your business?

  • Existing plans and protocols may have to be adapted in light of COVID-19.

6. How will you ensure your plan is working?

  • Consider assigning a manager or management team to be in charge of COVID-19 related issues.
  • Consider, for instance:
    • how health and safety representatives of JHSC be involved in evaluating whether the plan is working;
    • adding COVID-19 measures and procedures to the JHSC checklist for required monthly inspections;
    • how changes to processes will be communicated.

Construction Site Health and Safety During COVID-19

MOLTSD has provided updated guidance to assist construction employers in developing and maintaining a safety plan specific to their worksite. The full guide can be found here

Highlights include the following:

Best Practices

This guidance and other general and sector-specific resources may be consulted in developing and maintaining a safety plan specific to your worksite.

  • Understand the risks, including:
    • prolonged exposure, close proximity, crowded places, closed spaces, and forceful exhalation.
  • Implement safety measures:
    • You must implement measures to control potential exposure to COVID-19, which may include:
      • screening, physical distancing and barriers, good ventilation, frequent cleaning and disinfection of surfaces, source control masking, and use of personal protective equipment.
  • Provide information and training:
    • Provide workers with the information and training they need to ensure everyone follows health and safety policies.
    • Trades, subtrades and subcontractors should have procedures in place to follow your health and safety policies.
  • Share information:
    • Provide clear guidance on policies, procedures and other controls, which may relate to:
      • sanitization of work areas, how workers and contractors report illnesses, how to ensure physical distancing, when PPE or source control masking is required, how work will be scheduled, and screening measures.
  • Control the risk of transmission in the workplace:
    • Refer to the hierarchy of controls set out above in the general guidance regarding developing a COVID-19 safety plan.
  • Screen for COVID-19:
    • Reduce possible transmission in the workplace by keeping symptomatic workers and other persons from entering.
    • Know the symptoms to look for and plan how to screen everyone who enters the worksite, including actively screening workers.  
  • Physical distancing:
    • You may need to reduce the number of persons on jobsites and in specific areas within the site to ensure appropriate physical distancing can be maintained.
    • Consider adjusting production schedules to limit unnecessary onsite contact and support physical distancing, where possible.
  • Masks and personal protective equipment:
    • All constructors and employers should consider using source control masking combined with other control measures.
    • When workers need to work within two metres of an unmasked person without a shielding barrier, they will need to wear PPE for COVID-19.
    • Construction workers who wear PPE for protection against workplace hazards besides COVID-19 must continue to use that PPE as required.
  • Workplace sanitation and hygiene:
    • Employers must:
      • provide access to soap and water;
      • provide hand cleanser and an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that is between 60%-90% alcohol when providing water is not feasible in addition to hand washing stations;
      • clean washroom facilities regularly and provide a safe place for waste disposal.
  • Ventilation and airflow:
    • Steps to consider to reduce the risk of transmission may include:
      • keeping windows and doors open as frequently as possible
      • using portable ventilation fans; and
      • continuing ventilation and air exchange after regular work hours where feasible.
  • Manage a potential case of, or suspected exposure to, COVID-19 at the workplace:
    • If a worker calls in sick, informs you of symptoms, informs you they had close contact with someone with symptoms, or if anyone shows symptoms in workplace, they should be excluded from the workplace.
    • Local public health units are responsible for identifying close contacts and determining when a workplace outbreak has occurred.
    • You and your workers must follow any direction provided by local public health officials, including self-isolation if required.
    • 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 potential exposure and where it took place.
      • Do not give out any information that might identify the infectious person.
  • Provide notice:
    • 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 WSIB, you must give writing within four (4) days to:
      • the MOLTSD;
      • the workplace JHSC or health and safety representative;
      • the worker’s trade union (if applicable).
    • You must report any occupationally acquired illnesses to the WSIB within three (3) days of receiving notification of the illness.

Meal and Break Periods

MOLTSD has now provided guidance to assist employers in controlling exposure to COVID-19 during meal and break periods. The full guide can be found here.

Highlights include:

Responsibilities and Considerations for Employers, Supervisors, and Workers

  • Employers
    • Under the OHSA,employers are required to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers from hazards in the workplace, including from infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
    • Consider how the following can be created and maintained for meal and break periods:
      • safer spaces;
      • strong policies and procedures;
      • consistent training and supervision.
    • Physical distancing and good ventilation are particularly important when workers remove masks to eat and drink.
  • Supervisors
    • Supervisors must:
      • make workers fully aware of workplace hazards;
      • ensure workers perform work safely;
      • respond to any hazards brought to their attention.
    • MOLTSD recommends supervisors provide consistent guidance and ensure workers follow all health and safety rules and policies, including during meal and break periods.
  • Workers
    • Workers must:
      • wear protective equipment required by their employer;
      • work in a manner which does not expose themselves or others to harm;
      • stay home and follow public health direction when ill or after coming into close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
    • Workers should do everything they can to maintain a physical distance, particularly when they remove protective equipment to eat or drink.

Recommended Precautions for Meal and Break Periods

  • MOLTSD notes there is an increased risk of spreading COVID-19 when workers are:
    • close together;
    • in crowded places;
    • in closed spaces;
    • exposed for a longer time; and
    • forcefully exhaling.
  • These factors are important to address during working hours and break periods.

Create Safer Spaces

  • Ensure shared spaces for eating, taking breaks, and changing are well-ventilated and set up to allow workers to maintain physical distance.

Have Strong Policies and Procedures

  • Put in place clear policies for using lunchrooms, change rooms, and break rooms.

Focus on Training and Supervision

  • Ensure every person knows what to do and how to do it.
  • Observe what workers are doing including during meal and break times, and provide feedback right away.

Self-Isolation and Return to Work

MOLTSD has provided guidance for employers in non-healthcare workplaces to understand what to expect for workers returning to the workplace after COVID-19 self-isolation. The full guide can be found here.  

Highlights include:

Workers Returning to the Workplace After Self-Isolation

  • People must self-isolate if they:
    • have COVID-19;
    • have had close contact with someone with COVID-19.
  • Workers should always follow the direction of public health officials and their doctor.

Self-Isolation Due to Potential Exposure (14 Days)

  • Workers must self-isolate for 14 days if they were:
    • out of the country;
    • in close contact with someone with COVID-19 or who is likely to have had COVID-19 (as determined by public health).
  • Anyone who has potentially been exposed must self-isolate for the full 14 days even if they have a negative test during this time.
  • Workers can return to the workplace after 14 days of self-isolation if they have not developed symptoms or tested positive.
  • Workers do not need a negative COVID-19 test to return to the workplace after self-isolating for the full period.

Self-Isolation Due to COVID-19 Infection (Minimum 10 Days)

  • Workers who have been tested because they have symptoms must remain in self-isolation while awaiting test results.
    • If the test is negative, the worker may return to the workplace if they do not have a fever and their symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours.
  • A worker must self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days if they:
    • test positive on a standard COVID-19 test;
    • are told by their health care provider or a public health official that they have COVID-19.
  • The self-isolation period is at least 20 days if the worker either:
    • had severe COVID-19 illness (i.e. were admitted to intensive care);
    • has severe immune compromise.
  • The self-isolation period commences from when the worker’s symptoms started or the day they were tested, whichever is earlier.
  • Workers can return to work after their self-isolation period if they have no fever and their symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours.
  • Workers do not need a negative COVID-19 test to return to the workplace after self-isolating for the full period.

Screening Tools

MOLTSD has also released quick, electronic COVID-19 screening tools for workers and customers for potential use- these have set questions, and permit record-keeping of the inquiries made. It is noted that use of these specific online tools to ensure key questions are posed is optional. Further, these screening tools are not required for emergency services or other first responders entering a business or public place for emergency purposes.

The worker and employee screening tool can be found here. The customer screening tool can be found here

If you have any questions about this MOLTSD guidance, please contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer, or refer to the Firm’s COVID-19 website resources.

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