Easing of COVID-19 Restrictions

07. May 2020 0

Yesterday the British Columbia government announced easing of COVID-19 restrictions, unveiling their reopening plan.  The next phase of BC’s COVID-19 response will allow residents to host a small group of friends for dinner, get a professional haircut and play low contact sports.  The result is that a variety of businesses and services will be allowed to reopen as early as the middle of May.  While this will be very welcome by British Columbians, we will need to remain vigilant to ensure that the increased levels of socialization do not result in a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections that in turn overwhelm our health care resources.  Seniors and those living with chronic health conditions will have to continue to be careful.

Employers are required to ensure the health and safety of the workers at the workplace.  Orders from the provincial health officer and guidance from the BC Centre for Disease Control are the minimum requirements that employers must meet.  The Orders, Notices and Guidance of the Provincial Health Officer can be accessed here.  The directions provided by the BC Centre for Disease Control can be accessed here.

When it comes to reopening businesses, the various sectors will be responsible for preparing and submitting, with the support of WorkSafe BC, industry specific guidelines for keeping staff and customers safe.  Businesses will have to demonstrate implementation of industry specific guidelines prior to opening.  The guidelines are implemented not just to keep customers safe but also to keep staff safe.

WorkSafe BC has published general guidelines as a resource for employers to assist them in ensuring the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is minimized in the workplace.  They are in the process of developing industry specific resources which can be accessed here.  While they are in the process of developing industry specific guidelines the published general guidelines will assist you in creating your reopening plan.  The general guidelines include six different components.  Those are as follows:

1. Assessment of the risk in your workplace.  Assessment is done to identify places where there is a risk of transmission.  This assessment should be done both prior to reopening as well as after resumption of activities.  To understand the risk in your workplace, remember that the spread of COVID 19 happens in a variety of ways including through droplets when a person coughs or sneezes, or from touching a contaminated surface before touching the face.  Given this, consider the following questions:

  • Where do people congregate?
  • What job tasks result in people coming either in close proximity with other workers or with the public?
  • What materials are exchanged between either coworkers or the public?
  • What tools or equipment do people come in contact within the course of their work?
  • What surfaces are touched often in the workplace?

2. Put in place measures to reduce the risk of transmission.  The three main considerations are cleaning and hygiene, maintaining physical distance and how to deal with situations where physical distance cannot be maintained.

The focus in resumption of operations is on ensuring that it can be done in a safe manner, a manner which reduces the risk of transmission of COVID 19.  That entails taking into consideration not only worker safety but also the safety of the public utilizing the business.  Steps taken by the employer will not only minimize the risk of exposure but will also provide workers with the confidence that they will be safe in the workplace and the general public with the confidence to visit the workplace.

3. Develop policies to deal with the situations that arise because of COVID-19 including policies around sick workers and travelers.   Strictly enforce the requirement that any worker exhibiting any symptoms of a cough or flu stay away from the workplace and self-isolate for ten days.  If working from home will continue in your workplace, ensure that policies are in place to ensure that workers can do so safely.

4. Develop communications plans and training.  Ensure that workers and members of the public visiting your workplace are informed about the procedures that you have put in place to minimize the risk of transmission of COVID-19.  This includes providing adequate training to staff, providing appropriate signage and directions and ensuring appropriate supervision is in place to ensure that policies and procedures are followed.

5. Continued monitoring of the workplace so that necessary changes are identified as the business operates and that all workers concerns relating to safety are addressed.

6. Assess risks arising from resuming operations.  If workers have been absent from the workplace for a period of time or you have new workers assuming operations ensure that proper and adequate training are put in place.

The focus in resumption of operations is on ensuring that it can be done in a safe manner, a manner which reduces the risk of transmission of COVID 19.  That entails taking into consideration not only worker safety but also the safety of the public utilizing the business.  Steps taken by the employer will not only minimize the risk of exposure but will also provide workers with the confidence that they will be safe in the workplace and the general public with the confidence to visit the workplace.

This update was authored by Rose Keith, QC. Looking for more information on developments regarding the evolving COVID-19 pandemic? Contact Rose at rkeith@harpergrey.com or anyone else listed on the authors page.