COVID-19: Workplace measures to prevent exposure to infectious viruses

gmcneil Occupational Health & Safety

Workers in some sectors (for example, health care and transportation) have a greater likelihood of exposure to viruses and other disease-causing agents. Employers have a general duty to take every precaution reasonable to protect workers from hazards in their workplaces. Employers in these sectors should already have effective plans in place for regular day-to-day interactions.

When new viruses are identified, employers should follow a hazard-assessment methodology, that looks at the virus and considers if existing controls are appropriate. Assessment should always be in consultation with health and safety committees or worker representatives. The goal of prevention plans must be to eliminate exposure to the infectious virus as much as possible.

CUPE is calling on all workplaces to be proactive in preventing the spread of COVID-19, by implementing the following practices:

  • Encourage sick workers to stay home with pay under the terms of a collective agreement or a supplementary arrangement with no negative effect for “attendance management” purposes.
  • Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance, and that employees are aware of these policies.
  • If you do not have collective agreement provisions dealing with quarantine, negotiate paid time off now as a supplement to your existing provisions.
  • Allow workers to work from home if possible.
  • Do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with respiratory illness or flu.
  • Adopt flexible policies that permit employees to stay home with pay to care for a sick family member.
  • Workers who are exhibiting flu-like symptoms should be sent home with pay.
  • Emphasize respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene for all employees.
  • Posters that encourage staying home when sick, promote cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene, should be placed at the entrance to your workplace, and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
  • Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.
  • Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace, particularly at entrances.
  • Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
  • Perform environmental cleaning:
    • Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, water fountains, sinks, elevator buttons, phones and doorknobs. Use cleaning agents that kill viruses.
    • Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before and after each use.

If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19, without disclosing the names or details of the infected worker, so that they may contact public health authorities.