Overview

Employers and workers in Ontario have certain duties and rights under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations. This includes taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID‑19 in the workplace.

Learn more about:

Constructors and employers have obligations to protect workers from hazards in the workplace, including COVID‑19. To help prevent outbreaks, we encourage every employer to develop a COVID‑19 workplace safety plan.

The guide to developing a COVID‑19 workplace safety plan can help you to:

  • understand the risks related to COVID‑19 transmission in your workplace
  • develop control measures to prevent exposures
  • identify concrete actions you will take to make your workplace safer

You should regularly check for requirements applicable to your region, such as:

This guidance note does not replace the Occupational Health and Safety Act or the Employment Standards Act and their regulations and should not be used as or considered legal advice. Health and safety inspectors and employment standards officers apply the law based on the facts in the workplace.

Best practices

Use this guidance, and other general and sector-specific resources, to develop and maintain a safety plan specific to your worksite.

Understand the risk

The key risk factors for COVID‑19 transmission include:

  • close proximity: working close to others
  • longer exposure: spending more time with potentially infected people
  • crowded places: having more people in a space
  • closed spaces: indoor spaces with less fresh air (working indoors is riskier than working outdoors)
  • forceful exhalation: activities that cause people to breathe more deeply, such as physically demanding work, speaking loudly and singing

Each additional risk factor in the workplace increases the risk of transmission. Not having any of these factors does not mean there is no risk of transmission.

Implement safety measures

Control measures are the steps you take to reduce the risks to your workers. With an infectious disease like COVID-19 your controls can help to break the chain of transmission of the virus and reduce the risk of a workplace outbreak.

These controls help to protect workers in different ways. For example:

  • screening helps to keep people who may be infectious out of the workplace
  • good ventilation and wearing masks can help reduce the amount of virus in an indoor space
  • maintaining physical distance reduces the chance of being exposed to respiratory droplets of all sizes
  • personal protective equipment (PPE) can help protect the wearer from exposure to the virus and may be required when other control measures cannot be consistently maintained

It is possible for COVID-19 to be spread by people who do not have any symptoms. Consider that anyone could be infected when setting up controls.

In situations where one or more controls cannot be consistently maintained it is especially important that other controls are in place.

Provide information and training

Ensure that everyone follows health and safety policies. Give workers the information and training they need. Trades, subtrades and subcontractors should have procedures in place to follow your health and safety policies.

Ensure all workers know how to keep themselves safe from exposure to COVID‑19.

Share information

Provide clear information and instruction to workers and others. Make sure they know what they need to do to protect themselves and others. Provide clear guidance on policies, procedures and other controls including:

  • the sanitization of the work areas
  • how workers and contractors report illnesses
  • how to ensure physical distancing
  • when PPE or source control masking is required
  • how work will be scheduled
  • screening measures

Some things to consider:

  • set up or use your current internal communication systems to provide frequent reminders and updates
  • post information for workers and other people (such as at the access points to each project, by the elevator or hoist, close to the lunchroom, office or other common areas).
  • share information in all languages spoken by your workers if possible, and provide information in ways that are easy to understand, like graphics
  • provide information to your workers about how vaccination can help keep them safe
  • share information about social, financial and mental health supports and how to stay healthy at home and while travelling between home and work
  • train and re-train on procedures

Control the risk of transmission in the workplace

Controlling the transmission of COVID‑19 in the workplace involves making changes to the way we do things. Use the hierarchy of controls to help you choose the right control measures for your workplace. Checking to see how your plan is working will help you find the best solutions for your unique situation and adapt to any changes.

Every control measure has strengths and weaknesses, so it is important to combine controls. Each additional control adds a level of protection. For controls that rely on individual behaviours, it is critical that people apply them correctly and consistently.

Some questions that may be helpful when considering control measures include:

  • Can this task be completed while maintaining physical distancing?
  • Can workers wear a source control mask while performing this work?
  • Can this task be conducted at a later, safer time?
  • Is there a different procedure that can be used?

Screen for COVID‑19

By keeping symptomatic workers and other people from entering, you can reduce possible transmission at your workplace.

Know the symptoms to look for and have a plan. You can use the COVID-19 screening tool for workplaces or have your own screening process that includes all the questions from the tool.

Physical distancing (two metres)

Physical distancing helps control the spread of COVID-19. Here are some tips you can use to support physical distancing at your worksite.

Limit the number of people

  • limit the number of workers on-site at the same time by staggering work schedules, start times, breaks, and lunches
  • control site access, including prohibiting entry to any unauthorized person and posting signs indicating a phone number for suppliers and visitors to call for entry
  • organize tasks so that only one trade is working in a space at a time (for example, not doing electrical work and plumbing at the same time)
  • limit the number of people in the project trailer or lunchrooms at one time
  • hold meetings outside or in a large space and if necessary, hold multiple meetings to limit size of groups

Consider movement of people

  • plan worksite mobility and transportation to take into account physical distancing, including for hoist operations
  • set up one-way staircases and corridors wherever practical to minimize contact between workers
  • limit the number of people who use elevators and hoists at one time through markings on the floor and direct the occupants to face the walls of the hoist or elevator rather than each other
  • limit the number of people inside a vehicle and/or increase number of trips to allow for physical distancing; increase use of fresh air ventilation in vehicles

Communicate expectations to workers

  • make sure everyone knows what to do and how to do it
  • observe what workers are doing and provide feedback right away
  • communicate to workers that they should notify the supervisor of any concerns about practices or procedures
  • use signage to reinforce your policies and control measures

Masks and personal protective equipment

A mask is a type of face covering. It is a piece of equipment that covers the wearer’s nose, mouth and chin. It is fixed to the face with straps, ties or elastic, either behind the head or with ear loops.

For COVID‑19 protection, masks can be used as workplace control measures in two ways:

  • source control: workers and visitors wear a mask to protect those around them
  • PPE: workers wear a mask to protect themselves

Not all masks or other face coverings are suitable for use for either or both purposes in the workplace.

All constructors and employers should consider using source control masking combined with other control measures as much as possible.

To determine when PPE is needed, you will have to assess all the relevant factors in the workplace. This includes the effectiveness of other controls you already use. Even with other controls in place, there are situations where PPE is needed to comply with your duty under the OHSA to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers.

Construction workers who wear PPE for protection against workplace hazards besides COVID‑19 must continue to use that PPE as required.

This could include:

  • respirators (such as for wood dust or silica)
  • gloves (such as for handling chemicals or protecting hands from cuts)

Learn more about using masks in the workplace including how to select, care for and use them to protect workers from COVID‑19.

Workplace sanitation and hygiene

COVID‑19 is spread from person to person through close contact, including at work. While constructors and employers always have an obligation to maintain clean worksites, that obligation is under sharper focus due to COVID‑19.

Continue to provide either:

  • access to soap and water
  • hand cleanser to remove grease, grime and oil and alcohol-based hand sanitizer

Some additional tips for protecting workers through improved workplace sanitation and hygiene include:

  • do more frequent maintenance of the wash up facilities and ensure adequate amounts of soap, water, cleaners and disinfectant are available
  • clean lunchroom and other common room surfaces frequently
  • minimize sharing of hand tools, powered equipment and other items

Ventilation and air flow

The risk of COVID‑19 transmission is higher in more enclosed and crowded spaces. On a construction site this may include trailers, sheds, temporary buildings and any other indoor spaces, finished or unfinished.

The steps you can take to reduce the risk will depend on the worksite. You could:

  • keep windows and doors open as much as possible
  • use portable ventilation fans or HEPA air cleaners
  • continue ventilation and air exchange after regular work hours where feasible
  • limit how much time workers are indoors or in enclosed spaces, particularly with other people; alternate indoor and outdoor tasks
  • use available outdoor space whenever possible, for example, for meetings, breaks and appropriate work tasks
  • consider scheduling tasks in a different order than usual to provide as much fresh air as possible throughout the project

Be aware of other hazards that may be associated with some of these actions, such as temperature extremes or potential for falls and put measures in place to control any new risks.

Manage a potential case of, or suspected exposure to, COVID‑19 at the workplace

The guide to developing your COVID‑19 workplace safety plan can help you plan for what you will do if there is a case of COVID‑19 at your workplace or a suspected exposure to COVID‑19 (see Question 4 in the guide).

Provide notice

If you are advised that one of your workers has COVID‑19 due to exposure at the workplace, or that a claim has been filed with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), you must give notice in writing within four days to:

Additionally, you must report any occupationally acquired illnesses to the WSIB within three days of receiving notification of the illness.

Resources

Resources to prevent COVID‑19 in the workplace:

General COVID‑19 resources:

Information on provincial COVID‑19 and local public health requirements:

Business information line

If you represent an Ontario business and have questions about COVID-19 and your business that are not answered elsewhere on this web page, please call our toll-free line 1-888-444-3659. Help is available from Monday to Sunday, from 8:30 a.m.―5:00 p.m

Important contacts

Telehealth Ontario at Toll-free:  1-866-797-0000
Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development - to report illness
WSIB - to report illness
Workplace PPE supplier directory – to assist in finding supplies and equipment