Food manufacturing and processing health and safety during COVID-19
Find resources, best practices and information to help keep your workers safe and healthy, and your business in operation, during COVID-19.
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During the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, we all need to do our part to keep workers, customers and the public safe and healthy so we can stop the spread and prepare to reopen the province, when we are ready.
Below are a set of resources, tips and best practices to help employers and employees prevent the spread of COVID-19 and work together to reopen the province.
Employers and workers in Ontario have certain duties and rights under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations. Employers should also review and follow any applicable directives and guidance coming from the Chief Medical Officer of Health and Ministry of Health.
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Everyone working in food processing and food manufacturing needs to consider how they can be safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19 at work, including:
- production associates
- cleaners/sanitation staff
- material handlers
- office administrators
- production managers
- quality control staff
- maintenance staff
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, everyone should comply with requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and with associated regulations and public health directives issued by the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Protecting yourself and your co-workers
Coronaviruses are spread through close contact with others. Here are some helpful tips to help prevent the spread of germs at home or in the workplace:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Wash or sanitize hands after making or receiving deliveries.
- Sneeze and cough into your sleeve.
- If you use a tissue, discard immediately and wash your hands afterward.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Avoid contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home if you are sick.
- Avoid high-touch areas, where possible, or ensure you clean your hands after.
- Where possible, wear gloves when interacting with high-touch areas. Do not touch your face with gloved hands. Take care when removing gloves. Ensure you wash your hands after removing them.
- Wash your clothes as soon as you get home.
- If you are ill: notify your supervisor immediately, complete the self-assessment and follow the instructions.
Physical distancing (two meters)
As advised by the Chief Medical Officer and public health officials, physical distancing is required to control the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).
Here are some tips employers can use to help ensure physical distancing in the workplace:
- Minimize contact with customers.
- Maintain a safe distance while handing goods and taking payment, including minimizing or eliminating handling of cash and eliminating at-the-door payment methods.
- Assign staff to ensure customers are maintaining safe physical distances in congested areas like entrances/exits and checkouts.
- Add floor markings and barriers to manage traffic flow and physical distancing.
- Don't accept re-usable bags or containers that are to be handled by your staff.
- Install barriers between cashiers and customers; this can include plexiglass or markings on the floor to ensure at least 2 meters between customer and cashier.
- Stagger start times, shifts, breaks, and lunch times.
- Restrict the number of people on-site and where they are assigned to work.
- Control site movement (by limiting the potential for workers to gather).
- Limit the number of people working in one space at the same time.
- Minimize the number of people using each piece of equipment in instances where sharing equipment cannot be avoided.
- Hold meetings in an outside or large space.
- Limit unnecessary on-site interaction between workers, and with outside service providers.
Coronaviruses are spread person to person through close contact. While employers always have an obligation to maintain clean worksites, that obligation is under sharper focus due to COVID-19.
Here are some tips for employers:
- Provide ways to properly clean hands, by providing access to soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Provide cashiers, drive thru operators, delivery staff and other customer-facing staff with hand sanitizer for their use only.
- Have all employees and visitors wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water before entering the workplace and after contact with surfaces others have touched.
- Include handwashing before breaks and at shift changes.
- Provide a safe place for customers to dispose of used sanitizing wipes and personal protective equipment.
- Clean washroom facilities.
- Sanitize commonly- touched surfaces or areas such as entrances, counters, washrooms and kitchens
- Sanitize shared equipment (where sharing of equipment cannot be avoided).
- Post hygiene instructions in English or French and the majority workplace language so everyone can understand how to do their part.
- Introduce more fresh air by increasing the ventilation system’s air intake or opening doors and windows. Avoid central recirculation where possible.
- Minimize shaking and disturbance of dirty uniforms and laundry; if possible, using the warmest appropriate water setting for washing laundry and drying it completely.
- Clean and disinfect hampers or other carts for transporting laundry and sanitation equipment.
- Replace dry dusting with vacuuming or wet wiping to better control the clean-up.
- Enforce rigorous use of site sanitation protocols such as use of foot wear cleaning (for example, boot buddies/boot sanitizing trays).
- Consider a captive boot/personal protective equipment program to limit this equipment’s use outside of the production/processing environment.
Adjust on-site and production schedules
Lowering staff level on job sites may be required to maintain appropriate physical distancing. Employers should look at how they can adjust their production schedules to support physical distancing, where possible.
Here are some tips for employers to follow:
- Limit the number of workers to critical number by staggering work schedules.
- Consider job rotation.
- Postpone projects and tasks that don’t need to be done now.
- Reschedule any unnecessary visits to the workplace by supply chain partners, vendors or others who don’t need to be there now.
- Ensure sanitation of sites and workspaces.
- Carry out site planning to facilitate appropriate physical distancing between workers.
- Establish rules for any work that requires workers within two metres of each other. This could include full personal protective equipment.
- Offer work-site mobility and transportation, including hoist operations.
Track your workforce
Due to the delayed period of COVID-19 (coronavirus) spread, it is important to track where workers have been. If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, the local public health unit will ask employers to provide information on where the employee worked as well as the contact information of any other employee who may have been exposed. Employers will provide that information and Public Health Units will respond.
The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to other illnesses, including the cold and flu. At this time, it is recommended that any worker who has symptoms related to cold, flu or COVID-19 be sent home. Public Health Ontario has provided helpful guidance on self-monitoring and self-isolation.
In addition, employers should advise these workers to complete the online self-assessment or call either:
- their primary care provider (for example, family physician)
Workers with COVID-19
If you believe one of your workers may have COVID-19 or has tested positive for the disease, you should conduct a risk assessment.
Based on the results, ministry inspectors may require the employer to:
- inform co-workers who were exposed and send those workers home for two weeks
- ask those workers to self-isolate and self-monitor and report any COVID-like illness to their employer
- shut down the job site while the affected workplace and equipment are disinfected
- implement other measures based on the advice of public health officials
Getting information on infection prevention and control
Employers can contact local public health units for questions on workplace infection prevention and control related to COVID-19 infections.
It is important that all parties in a workplace communicate their roles and responsibilities. Employers must ensure health and safety policies are updated and posted for all workers to see. Using industry resources, including this one and those produced by the Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS), will improve on-site understanding.
Post your policies
All employers need to post and communicate COVID-19 policies to workers.
These policies should cover how the workplace will operate, including, but not limited to:
- the sanitization of the workplace
- how workers report illnesses
- how to ensure physical distancing
- how work will be scheduled
- screening measures
Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development reporting requirements
If an employer is advised that a worker has tested positive for COVID-19 due to exposure at the workplace, or that a claim has been filed with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), the employer is required to notify:
- the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development in writing within four days
- the workplace joint health and safety committee or a health and safety representative
- a trade union (if applicable)
COVID-19 government updates
Stay updated with daily government updates:
Ontario government and agency-issued resources about COVID-19
The Ontario Ministry of Health is providing consistent updates on the provincial government’s response to the outbreak, including:
- status of cases in Ontario
- current affected areas
- symptoms and treatments
- how to protect yourself and self-isolate
- updated Ontario news on the virus
Public Health Ontario is providing up-to-date resources on COVID-19, including:
- links to evolving public health guidelines, position statements and situational updates
- synopsis of key articles updating on the latest findings related to the virus
- recommendations for use of personal protective equipment
- information on infection prevention and control
- testing information
- other public resources
Other COVID-19 resources
Health Canada outlines the actions being taken by the Government of Canada to limit spread of the virus, as well as what is happening in provinces and communities across the country. It also maintains a live update of the number of cases by province.
The World Health Organization is updating the latest guidance and information related to the global outbreak and spread beyond Canadian borders.
It also provides the most up-to-date information on:
- current research and development around the virus
- a COVID-19 situation “dashboard”
- emergency preparedness measures
- live media updates on the spread of the virus
This resource does not replace the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations, and should not be used as or considered legal advice. Health and safety inspectors apply the law based on the facts in the workplace.