COVID-19 and the Occupational Health and Safety Act
Learn about employers’ responsibilities and how you can protect your workers. Workers can get information about health and safety protections at the workplace.
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As Ontario moves through the Plan to Safely Reopen Ontario and Manage for the Long-Term, workplace safety and public health measures are gradually lifting, in the absence of concerning trends. This includes removing some of the remaining masking requirements, and other regulatory requirements for businesses, as of March 21, 2022. Masking requirements will remain in select settings until April 27, 2022 under the Reopening Ontario Act (ROA).
Under Ontario law, employers have the duty to keep workers and workplaces safe and free of hazards.
Workers have the right to refuse unsafe work.
The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development investigates all complaints related to workplace health and safety under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and works closely with the Ministry of Health and Public Health Ontario to provide support, advice and enforcement, as needed.
Failure of the employer to comply with the OHSA and its regulations could result in an order upon inspection by the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development.
Guidance for employers
Under Ontario’s labour laws, employers must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of workers. This includes protecting workers from hazards posed by infectious diseases. The OHSA sets out the minimum standard related to health and safety in the workplace. Employers can continue to maintain some or all of the health and safety precautions they have put in place in their workplace to address the hazard of.
Requirements for all workplaces under the Occupational Health and Safety Act
OHSA requirements for all employers include:
- ensuring workers know about hazards by providing information, instruction and supervision on how to work safely
- ensuring supervisors know what is required to protect workers’ health and safety on the job
- creating workplace health and safety policies and procedures
- ensuring workplace parties follow the law and the workplace health and safety policies and procedures
- ensuring workers wear the right protective equipment and are trained on how to use it
- taking all precautions reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers from being hurt or getting a work-related illness
Read the guide to the Occupational Health and Safety Act to understand all of your health and safety rights and responsibilities.
Contact one of the health and safety partners for help understanding the OHSA.
Changes to the Reopening Ontario Act requirements for employers
As of March 21, 2022, the requirements for masking and face coverings will be lifted for all settings, except for the following:
- public transit
- long-term care homes
- retirement homes
- hospitals including private hospitals
- other health care settings (for example, clinics that provide health care services, laboratories and specimen collection centres, Independent Health Facilities, and employees and contractors of home and community care providers)
- congregate care settings
For the settings noted above, the masking and face covering requirements are anticipated to remain in force until April 27, 2022, when they will be lifted through the expiry of remaining ROA orders.
As of March 21, 2022, screening of workers, patrons or clients is no longer required under ROA. This includes both active screening of workers prior to entering the workplace (for example, questionnaires) and passive screening (for example, signage in your business).
As of March 21, 2022, employers are no longer required to develop or post written safety plans.
To review all the changes that were made to regulations under ROA visit Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to . ) Act
Assess your workplace
Employers should continue to assess the workplace in consultation with the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative, to determine what they need to do to protect the health and safety of their workers
This supports the workplace internal responsibility system (IRS), which ensures everyone in the workplace has a role to play in keeping workplaces safe and healthy.
Under the law employers must provide their workers with:
Employers should determine what kind of information is appropriate with respect tocontrols. This may include:
- provision of information about respiratory infections in general
- basics of infection control, such as hand hygiene
- signs and symptoms of COVID infection
Based on the assessment and consultation, the employer may choose to voluntarily maintain COVID precautions that exceed the minimum requirements of the Plan to Safely Reopen Ontario. For example, an employer may choose to maintain passive screening protocols or a modified version of the COVID safety plan for the workplace. The content of the precautions will vary, according to:
- the particular workplace hazards
- applicable regulations
- reasonable precautions that are appropriate in the circumstances
What to do about potentialillness or exposure at work
If a worker shows symptoms of a respiratory illness, they should be encouraged to remain at home and contact:
- their health care provider
- Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000
- their local public health unit
For additional information, visit Prevention and Management of COVID-19.
The employer is required to take every reasonable precaution in the circumstance to protect the health and safety of workers and should do a risk assessment to determine if other workers may have been at risk of COVID transmission based on contact with the affected worker.
Based on this risk assessment, public health may require additional steps, such as sending co-workers who were exposed home to self isolate or to self-monitor and report any COVID-like symptoms. If an employer is advised that a worker has an occupational illness due to an exposure at the workplace or that a claim has been filed with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), the employer must give notice in writing within four days to:
- the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development
- the workplace’s joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative
- the worker’s trade union (if applicable)
Additionally, the employer must report any occupationally acquired illnesses to the WSIB within three days of receiving notification of the illness.
The employer does not need to determine where a case was acquired. If it’s reported as an occupational illness, the employer must report the case.
Guidance for workers
As with all workplace hazards, employers are responsible for taking every reasonable precaution to protect workers’ health and safety. This includes protecting them from exposure to infectious diseases at work.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act and its regulations set out requirements for the use of various types of personal protective equipment where workers are exposed to hazards.
Use personal protective equipment
A worker must use or wear the personal protective equipment that an employer requires. The employer must also comply with any relevant regulatory requirements for that personal protective equipment.
Concerns about personal protective equipment
If you have workplace health and safety concerns about personal protective equipment (such as masks) you must report your concerns to your supervisor or employer. Questions about the voluntary use of such equipment should also be directed to your employer or supervisor.
You may also raise the issues or concerns with your:
- joint health and safety committee
- health and safety representative in your workplace (if one exists)
What to do if someone at work has respiratory symptoms
If a worker shows symptoms of a respiratory illness, like a cough or difficulty breathing, they should stay home.
If a worker has concerns that a co-worker has respiratory symptoms, the worker should raise concerns with a:
- joint health and safety committee
- health and safety representative (if one exists)
Employers should promote hand hygiene and cough and sneeze etiquette in the workplace.
Working with someone who might have
All workers in Ontario, including those working with patients or clients who are being investigated for, have the right to:
- know about hazards in their workplace and to be trained on how to protect themselves from harm
- help identify and resolve workplace health and safety concerns
- refuse unsafe work
Employers have duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, including:
- ensuring that the equipment, materials and protective devices as prescribed are provided and maintained in good condition
- providing information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect the health or safety of the worker
- taking every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of the worker
Your right to refuse work
The Occupational Health and Safety Act provides a worker with the right to refuse work that they believe is unsafe.
If you refuse work that you believe is unsafe, you must promptly report the circumstances to your employer or supervisor.
Certain occupations have a limited right to refuse work if the danger in question is a normal part of the job or if the refusal would endanger the life, health or safety of another person.
This includes persons employed in certain health care workplaces, first responders and correctional services workers.
These workers cannot refuse work when either:
- the dangerous circumstance is inherent in their work or is a normal condition of their employment
- their refusal to work would directly endanger the life, health or safety of another person
In these circumstances, the employer and supervisor still have a duty to take every precaution reasonable to protect the health and safety of all workers.
Teachers do not have the right to refuse work where the circumstances are such that the life, health or safety of a pupil is in imminent jeopardy. Learn more about teacher work refusals.
It is important that the following workplace parties are aware of the procedure that must be followed for a work refusal:
- members of the joint health and safety committee (JHSC)
- multi-site JHSCs (MJHSCs)
- health and safety representatives
Making a complaint or resolving a dispute
We encourage you to try to resolve your dispute internally.
If concerns remain, a worker can file a complaint with the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development’s Health and Safety Contact Centre by calling toll-free at
An inspector may visit the workplace to determine if the employer is complying with Occupational Health and Safety Act and its regulations.