COVID-19: occupational health and safety hazards
Occupational health and safety guidance to help workplaces assess COVID-19 hazards and implement controls to reduce them.
Assessing workplace hazards
Assessing workplace hazards means taking a careful look at what could harm workers in the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. Assessment includes:
- addressing the risk of exposure and how to control it
- assessing how your workplace will be affected if some of your staff are absent
You must also do a review to identify the potential for exposure. Review includes:
- reviewing tasks and jobs to determine who is at the greatest risk of exposure and when the exposure is most likely to happen
- looking again at previous hazard assessments to identify areas where the risk of exposure is greatest
- reviewing the hazard assessment, identifying new hazards, and introducing controls as needed
- reviewing and identifying potential staff shortages and how they affect operational and critical safety activities
Consult with your Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee or Safety Representative to discuss what you could do to reduce risk and how effective each action would be.
Whenever possible, hazards should be eliminated. You could do this by eliminating any activity that isn't essential or can be delayed until the threat of viral exposure is reduced or resolved. This may be difficult, but you must do whatever is reasonably practical to reduce the risk.
Engineering controls either remove a hazard or provide a barrier between the worker and the hazard. Examples of engineering controls to reduce the risk of catching or spread viruses include:
- physical barriers to isolate, such as installing Plexiglas or other form of enclosure
- facility, room, and workstation design, focusing on increased spatial separation
- human traffic patterns (limiting areas where people gather or frequent)
- positioning of alcohol-based hand sanitizer dispensers
- positioning of dedicated hand washing sinks
- process automation to reduce contact with surfaces (like automated hand-washing dispensers, automated hand drying, automatic doors, etc.)
- make sure ventilation systems are working properly
- increase ventilation rates for makeup air, supply air, and exhaust systems
- increase the percentage of fresh clean air that circulates into the system
- change filters in ventilation systems more frequently
- develop operations and maintenance procedures to clean, maintain, and operate ventilation systems including protection for maintenance staff
Administrative controls may be used in combination to protect and reduce workplace exposures. Administrative controls can include training, hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, social distancing, alternate work arrangements, workplace cleaning, restricting workplace entry, and promotion of a vaccine when available.
Examples of administrative controls that you could consider include:
- revising work schedules to reduce the number of employees assigned to a given shift
- reducing close contact with customers or co-workers through the increased use of fax, telephone, and e-mail communication
- postponing business activities that require personal interaction with customers
- creating a buffer zone of at least 2 metres between an employee and a customer when customer service must be done in person and keeping meetings as short as possible
- making accommodations for staff to work from home wherever possible
- assigning high-risk workers (like people who are immuno-compromised or over 60 years of age) to job tasks with lower risk of exposure
- avoiding locations or activities that may represent a high risk of exposure
- increasing workplace cleaning, providing the necessary supplies, and reinforcing personal hygiene measures
- providing clean hand washing facilities
- offering alcohol-based hand sanitizers when regular facilities are not available (or to workers working on the road, on construction sites, etc.)
- regularly cleaning objects that are touched frequently, such as workstations, doorknobs, handles, railings, kettles, tools, etc. with disinfectants or soap and water
- providing boxes of tissues and ensuring safe and sanitary disposal of used tissues
- removing magazines and papers from waiting areas or common rooms (like staff break rooms)
- washing work clothing more frequently, including hard hat liners, gloves, and coveralls
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
COVID-19 is a new hazard in most workplaces and employers and employees may have questions about how to use personal protective equipment (PPE), even if they’re familiar with using it in other work situations.
Public Health has provided direction to workplaces for managing potential exposures to COVID-19. Under the Health Protection Act Order, only certain essential businesses are exempt from social distancing requirements. In all other workplaces, employees need to stay at least 2 metres apart.
If your business is exempt from distancing requirements and you have employees working within 2 metres of each other, you should still consider other ways to reduce your need for PPE, like physical barriers.
Not all masks provide the same level of protection for COVID-19. If you’re using a mask as PPE for COVID-19, you need to make sure it provides the necessary protection, and that you’re using and maintaining it properly.
Workers may be asked to do unfamiliar job tasks which may require job specific training. All employees with potential occupational exposure should be trained on:
- the hazards associated with exposure, the potential ways of contracting the virus, and control measures to break the chain of infection
- the protocols in place to isolate and report cases or reduce exposure
- awareness of social distancing strategies-keeping a distance of 2 metres
- appropriate control measures, such as cough etiquette (covering the nose and mouth while coughing or sneezing, coughing or sneezing into the bend of the elbow or into a tissue), and hand hygiene (washing hands or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available) to prevent transmission
- use and care of personal protective equipment
- Canadian Business Resilience Network
- COVID-19 Response Standards and Handbooks (Canadian Standards Association)
- Hard surface disinfectants, hygiene and hand sanitizers (COVID-19)
- Pandemics (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety)
- Preventing COVID-19 in the workplace
- Risk-informed decision-making guidelines for workplaces and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic