As we all continue to adjust to the changes that 2020 never seems to stop bringing, here’s what you can do to ensure that your organization is in the best possible position to continue operating safely in the event of another COVID-19 wave. Here are our recommendations to prepare and operate your organization to help keep your employees and customers safe and healthy.
Conduct a Risk Assessment
We say this one a lot. That’s how important it is. A properly conducted risk or hazard assessment is a necessary first step in preventing workplace accidents and illnesses. We also strongly recommend that if you haven’t conducted a new assessment since the pandemic began, you do so as soon as possible.
And keep in mind that even the creation of new health and safety policies can create new hazards. For example, if you instituted a work from home policy in response to the pandemic, your employees may be at greater risk of MSDs caused by ergonomic hazards.
If you need help conducting a risk assessment, our article RACE: Recognizing, Assessing, Controlling, & Evaluating Hazards goes through each step of conducting a hazard assessment. It’s also the same assessment process that is taught in Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) training.
Develop a Communication Plan
You can’t forget about this one. All that hard thoughtful work you put into your safety preparation and planning won’t count for anything unless your employees receive the right information or instructions when they need it. Any new policy or procedure needs an effective communication strategy to work. Every organization is different so you’ll have to craft a plan that’s right for you. At the same time, you should be asking questions like:
- What are the technology requirements for this plan?
- What communication channels will be needed (email, meetings, video calls, texts)?
- What do my supervisors and managers need to know? What does everyone need to know?
- How will I communicate information to our visitors or customers?
- Is there a need for signage? Where are the optimal placements?
Ensure You Have Enough PPE
We recommend that employers have a month’s worth of PPE that their organization needs in case of scarcity like we saw earlier this year. This includes not only the PPE your organization required before the pandemic, but also the additional PPE such as sanitizer and masks that you now require for your staff, visitors, or customers.
And keep in mind if you require your employees wear masks like N95 or KN95s they need to be fit tested on the exact make and model they will wear at work. This is in order to comply with provincial regulations. For more information on masks and fit testing, please see our article Everything Employers Need to Know About Respirator Fit Testing.
Assign a Point Person to Monitor COVID-related Developments
It seems each week (and sometimes every day!) there is a new announcement from our federal, provincial, or municipal agencies. It can be difficult to keep track of all the changes. That’s why we recommend that if you haven’t already, you assign a point person, such as a member of your JHSC, to monitor COVID-related changes on a weekly or even daily basis. This person would monitor reputable local news sources as well as relevant agency websites. It’s important to rely on reputable sources for the most up-to-date information.
Here are some sources to consider monitoring:
- Government of Ontario Newsroom
- Health Canada
- Ontario Public Health Units
- Government of Canada Travel Advisories
You can also sign up for Government of Canada email updates on changes to COVID-19.
Switch to Online Learning and Training Where Possible
It might not always feel convenient, but during this pandemic employers still have training and education obligations to their employees. Some training your employees may require by federal or provincial regulations such as those in Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Other training you know could really benefit your employees. Some could positively impact your health and safety record. To minimize your employees’ interaction with others and reduce the risk of exposure, consider remote and online training options. For example, our JHSC training is available to take remotely online.
Prepare an Emergency Response Plan (ERP)
An ERP is a written document that outlines your organization’s plan in the event of an emergency. That could be in the event of a fire or spill. You should also have a plan of how you will respond if there is another shutdown. Your response should be designed to protect the safety of your employees, visitors, or customers and help ensure the continued functioning of core business operations. Your plan should also include what steps will be taken in the event of an employee testing positive.
Have Your JHSC Meet More Frequently
Your Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) is a great health and safety resource. Now is a great time to rely on them even more to support the health and safety of your employees and customers. They can be a great source of new ideas! Consider having your JHSC meet more frequently or perform more inspections than normal for the next several months. Since you’ve likely created additional policies because of the pandemic, more frequent inspections help ensure that new health and safety policies are followed.
Support Employee Mental Health
Each year we learn more about the effects of poor mental health. Almost 1 in 10 Canadians will experience major depression in their lives. Due to the added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, Statistics Canada reports that 24% of the 46,000 Canadians surveyed earlier this year reported “fair or poor mental health.” That’s an increase of 300% from what they reported in 2018. About half of Canadians reported feeling worse since the creation of social distancing policies. Luckily, there are mental health experts with suggestions and resources specific to coping with the pandemic that you can make available to your employees. This includes:
- CAMH: The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
- World Health Organization
- Canadian Mental Health Association – Middlesex
- Anxiety Canada
Using proven models such as RACE: (Recognizing, Assessing, Controlling, & Evaluating) to properly assess the risks or hazards of your workplace is just the first step. As the pandemic evolves, continuing to be safe in the coming months will also require employers to be continually monitoring and adapting to the many changes that 2020 keeps bringing our way.