At the start of this year, Ontario moved into Step Two of its Roadmap to Reopen with modifications to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.
This COVID-19 variant continues to create health and safety challenges for organizations as the province moves into the next phase of reopening.
Below are some strategies to help keep everyone in your workplace safe as the province continues lifting restrictions throughout the coming months.
Use more effective masks
Non-medical masks, medical masks and respirators can all be used in the community (outside of occupational health care settings). It’s important to understand the effectiveness of different masks to choose the best option to wear in your workplace.
Currently, there is no required standard for non-medical masks in Canada, so their effectiveness varies. According to Health Canada, the most effective non-medical masks are ones that:
- Fit well
- Have at least 2 layers of breathable tightly woven fabric
- Have an effective middle filter layer
Learn more about best practices for non-medical masks from Public Health Ontario.
A medical mask, also known as a surgical mask, is designed to protect the wearer from large-particle droplets, splashes, and sprays. Unlike non-medical masks, medical masks are considered PPE and meet certification by Health Canada.
Respirators like the N95, offer the highest level of protection because they are meant to be fitted to the wearer. When fitted correctly, the N95 should filter out at least 95% of airborne particles. Fit-tested, seal-checked N95s are now required to be used by all regulated health professionals and health care workers in hospitals, long-term care homes, and retirement homes in Ontario. Learn more about this requirement.
Non-fit tested N95 respirators may also be used in the community or workplaces where respirators are not required, for instance in education and childcare settings. This is because some studies have shown that non-fit-tested N95s still offer a higher degree of protection than surgical and fabric masks.
What masks should your employees wear?
To determine best the mask type for your workplace, conduct a risk assessment and identify how individuals interact within the workplace.
Provincial guidelines on using masks in the workplace state: when employees are performing tasks (either indoor or outdoor) that require them to work within 2 metres of another person who is not wearing a mask and without a barrier (for example, Plexiglas, partition, wall), then PPE is needed. This would include a medical mask or respirator, in addition to eye protection.
Regardless of mask type, how well it works depends on how well it fits the wearer. Use this resource and printable poster in your workplace to help educate employees on how to make their masks fit properly.
Encourage employees to get vaccinated
In addition to COVID-19 workplace control measures, vaccination provides strong protection to employees and anyone else who enters your workplace. Workplaces can help encourage vaccination among employees by creating a supportive environment and sharing credible information.
- Share vaccine resources with employees. You can find fact sheets, questions and answers, and, and videos about COVID-19 from the Government of Ontario.
- Listen and acknowledge employee concerns. If employees have concerns about the vaccine, share these resources about the safety and side effects of COVID-19 vaccines.
- Offer flexible hours for employees who are getting vaccinated.
- Offer time-off options for employees who are not feeling well after their vaccination.
- Post information about nearby vaccine clinics in common areas and/or offer help booking appointments.
Review and update your COVID-19 safety plan
In Ontario, all operating businesses must have a documented COVID-19 workplace safety plan. Employers should regularly review their safety plan and make any necessary changes to address new procedures or public health guidelines.
Your plan should include:
- Procedures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in your workplace, such as screening, limiting the number of people in common areas like break rooms, and proper hand hygiene.
- Measures for screening, physical distancing, mask and/or personal protective equipment use, cleaning and disinfecting, and preventing and controlling crowding
Review employer responsibilities for COVID-19 health and safety
Make sure you understand your responsibilities as an employer and the latest public health measures including restrictions for your workplace.
Employer responsibilities include:
- Take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of an employee.
- Provide written notice to the Ministry of Labour, Training, and Skills Development within four days of being advised that an employee has an occupational illness
- Maintain accurate shift records and up-to-date contact information for employees. You could be required to share this information with your local public health unit for investigations and communications.
- Provide information and training to employees on COVID-19 prevention and control measures
For more information, see the Government of Ontario’s resources on COVID-19 workplace health and safety, COVID-19 and your employment standards protections, and the Ministry of Heath’s guidance on workplace outbreaks.
Ensure employees know what to do if they have been exposed to COVID-19
Make sure that everyone in your workplace understands the steps to follow if they have been exposed to COVID-19. Exposure includes any of the following:
- have symptoms of COVID-19
- have tested positive for COVID-19
- are a close contact of someone who has COVID-19 or symptoms of COVID-19
The Government of Ontario defines a close contact as anyone you were less than two metres away from for at least 15 minutes, or multiple shorter lengths of time, without personal protective equipment in the 48 hours before your symptoms began or your positive test result, whichever came first.
Use the most effective screening tools and procedures
The Government of Ontario has updated their screening tools throughout the pandemic. Check the COVID-19 screening webpage regularly to make sure that you’re using the most current tools available. Using active screening instead of passive screening can also reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure in your workplace.
Individuals are responsible for assessing themselves and deciding whether they may enter the workplace or not.
Employers are responsible to ensure that employees do not enter the workplace unless they have completed the screening and the result indicates that they are allowed to enter the workplace.
Rapid antigen testing can also be a useful screening tool. Eligible organizations can sign up for free test kits from the Government of Ontario. Check whether your organization is eligible for the Provincial Antigen Screening Program.
Communicate regularly with your JHSC
Maintaining open lines of communication between employees, supervisors, and your Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) will help ensure that your health and safety policies are followed.
To help your JHSC be effective:
- Make sure your JHSC members are up-to-date on restrictions and compliance requirements.
- Share resources that are available through the provincial government and your local public health unit.
- Encourage your JHSC to meet and inspect your workplace more frequently to ensure sure that your workplace complies with the public health measures throughout each phase of reopening.
Support Employee Mental Health
The workplace is an environment that has a huge impact on an individual’s mental health. According to a 2021 survey on mental health conducted by LifeWorks, 24% of Canadians reported that work has hindered their mental health.
The emotional strain of change and uncertainty has made it more important than ever for employers to prioritize workplace mental health.
There is no one way to support mental health, but there are endless ways that employers can create a supportive environment for their employees:
- Sharing mental health resources
- Providing mental health training to managers
- Offering flexible work policies
- Creating initiatives and policies that promote work-life balance
You can find more mental health resources for employers from:
- Ontario Chamber of Commerce
- Government of Canada
- Mental Health Commission of Canada
- Canadian Mental Health Association
As the province reopens, it’s crucial that employees are making sure they’re taking every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect their employees.
At OSG, we offer a variety of tools and services to help you improve your workplace health and safety. Check out upcoming virtual training dates, or learn about our award-winning consulting and health and safety incentive program.