On April 30, 2020, in preparation for the eventual gradual re-opening of the province in accordance with its recently announced A Framework for Reopening our Province (discussed in a previous Focus Alert), the Ontario government released new safety guidelines for employers. The guidelines, which are the product of a partnership between the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and a number of provincial health and safety associations, provide practical and sector-specific occupational health and safety guidance in order to ensure the protection of workers, customers and the general public within the workplace as employers continue to adapt to the new reality of the ongoing pandemic.
The provincial guidelines were inspired by and draw on the contents of more than 60 separate technical sector guidance documents created by the province’s four individual sector-focused health and safety associations in response to COVID-19. These associations include:
- Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA), which serves the construction, electrical and utilities, aggregates, natural gas, ready-mix concrete and transportation sectors;
- Public Service Health and Safety Association (PSHSA), which serves hospitals, nursing and retirement homes, residential and community care, universities and colleges, school boards, libraries and museums, municipalities, provincial government and agencies, police, fire and paramedics and First Nations;
- Workplace Safety North (WSN), which serves the forestry, mining, smelters, refineries, paper, printing and converting sectors; and
- Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS), which serves the agriculture, manufacturing and service sectors.
Currently, the available provincial guidelines are specifically targeted at employers in the following sectors:
- Food processing
- Restaurant and food services
However, the Ontario government has indicated that additional provincial guidelines for other sectors will be forthcoming in the coming days and weeks.
The provincial guidelines contain practical guidance on various measures and recommended actions that employers can begin to plan for as they prepare to adapt to the new reality, including the following:
- Ways to ensure appropriate physical distancing, like eliminating pay-at-the-door options, holding team meetings outdoors, staggering shift times and using ground markings and barriers to manage traffic flow;
- Changes to the workplace, like installing plexiglass barriers, increasing the air intake on building heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to increase air flow, and using boot sanitizing trays; and
- Promoting proper workplace sanitation, providing personal protective equipment, substituting dry dusting with vacuuming, ensuring customer-facing staff are given hand sanitizer, providing a place to dispose of sanitizing wipes, and enforcing handwashing before and after breaks
In addition to the release of the provincial guidelines, the Ontario government announced several new initiatives related to the protection and promotion of occupational health and safety in the COVID-19 era, including the creation of sector-specific electronic safety posters widely available for download and print, the addition of new provincial labour standards inspectors tasked with communicating safety guidelines to essential workplaces or enforcing emergency measures, and the expansion of the Ontario Health and Safety Call Centre’s capacity to deal with a large increase in calls.
In Our View
Occupational health and safety is at the forefront of many employers’ minds as they continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and the work-related challenges associated with it. We will be reviewing the sector-specific guidelines in more detail and will issue sector-specific alerts in the coming days.
The sector-specific provincial guidelines and safety posters can be found at: https://www.ontario.ca/page/resources-prevent-covid-19-workplace
For more information about your rights and obligations as an employer, including as it relates to occupational health and safety during COVID-19, please contact Paul Lalonde at 613-940-2759 or Neil Dzuba at 613-940-2757 or J.D. Sharp at 613-940-2739 or Marianne Abou-Hamad at 613-563-7660 ext 259.