Preventing the spread of COVID-19 during meal and break periods at work
Learn what employers can do to help control exposure to respiratory infectious illnesses (such as COVID‑19 and the flu) at break times.
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The potential for COVID‑19 outbreaks is a concern in Ontario workplaces. There is some evidence that transmission may occur during meal and break periods in particular.
COVID‑19 is spread between people — whether “on the clock” or not. To prevent transmission, follow infection prevention measures such as:
- wear a mask
- maintain physical distance
- wash hands
Employers need to make sure all workers can follow these infection prevention measures to protect themselves and others while working and on break.
Preventing the spread of COVID-19
Everyone has a part to play in preventing COVID‑19 transmission.
Employers, supervisors and workers also have specific obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act that help to keep the workplace safe.
As an employer, one of your responsibilities is to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect your workers from hazards in the workplace, including from infectious diseases like COVID‑19.
Take steps to help ensure you and your workers can follow infection prevention measures at all times. For meal and break periods, consider how you can create and maintain:
- safer spaces
- strong policies and procedures
- consistent training and supervision
Remember that physical distancing and good ventilation are especially important when workers remove masks to eat and drink.
- make workers fully aware of workplace hazards
- ensure that workers perform work safely
- respond to any hazards brought to their attention
It’s important that supervisors lead by example. They should give consistent guidance and make sure workers follow all health and safety rules and policies, including during meal periods and breaks.
Workers must play their part by:
- wearing the protective equipment required by their employer
- working in a manner that doesn’t expose themselves or others to harm
- staying home when sick
Workers must follow all health and safety rules and policies. They should try to keep physical distance from others when they remove protective equipment to eat or drink.
Recommended precautions for meal and break periods
There is an increased risk of spreading COVID‑19 when workers are:
- close together
- in crowded places
- in closed spaces
- exposed for a longer time
- forcefully exhaling
These factors are important to address during break times and working hours.
Create safer spaces
The risk of transmission can be reduced if shared spaces for eating, taking breaks and changing are well-ventilated and set up to allow workers to maintain physical distance. Some actions you can take include:
- position dining tables, chairs and other furniture in meal and break rooms to help workers maintain distance from each other
- remove furniture from break spaces that would lead to overcrowding if used
- provide more locations for eating, changing and taking breaks
- use any outdoor spaces available to you
- provide visual markings to support physical distancing and control the flow of people
- make sure HVAC systems are properly maintained and are adjusted to increase the amount of fresh air and reduce recirculation
- use portable air cleaners with HEPA filters
- choose spaces with windows that open and keep them open as much as possible
- run exhaust fans where available (for example in bathrooms and kitchens)
- continue ventilation and air cleaning after people exit the space
Have strong policies and procedures
Put in place clear policies for using lunchrooms, changerooms and break rooms. Some points to think about include:
- set limits on the number of people allowed to use meal and break areas at one time and on how long they can stay there
- post information and reminders about capacity and time limits, maintaining distance and taking masks off only when eating and drinking
- stagger eating and rest periods
- consider assigning workers to specific meal and break rooms if there are multiple spaces
- ensure standard cleaning and disinfection happens on a frequent schedule
- allow masks to be removed indoors only for eating and drinking (and not while waiting for the microwave)
Focus on training and supervision
Make sure everyone knows what to do and how to do it. Observe what workers are doing, including during meal and break times, and provide feedback right away. Some points to think about include:
- lead by example and have supervisors do the same
- post clear instructions and posters in prominent locations, ideally in all the languages spoken by workers
- be consistent and strong in your messaging – point out if people are not following the rules and give positive feedback when they are following them
- remind workers of your important policies
- encourage workers to go outside for breaks and meals when the weather allows for it
- ensure workers know how you want them to store source control masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) during breaks
- promote frequent handwashing with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers
If you need more information about safety requirements, please contact us at the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development’s Health & Safety Contact Centre:
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.