Overview

We all need to do our part to stop the spread of covid 19 in order to keep the province open.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), employers have obligations to protect workers from hazards in the workplace. This includes protecting workers from hazards posed by infectious diseases.

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As part of this obligation, you should assess your workplace to determine what you need to do to protect the health and safety of your workers, including how to minimize the risk of transmission of covid 19.

Developing a covid 19 workplace safety plan can help you:

  • 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

Employers also need to be aware of and follow the restrictions and requirements that apply to their workplace under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to covid 19) Act (ROA), such as preparing a written safety plan and making it available upon request. Specific conditions for restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments are described in the Roadmap to Reopen.

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

Best practices

Use this guidance, and other general and sector-specific resources, to understand current covid 19 public health and workplace health and safety information. You can use the workplace safety plan builder to help you develop a customized plan for your business.

Understand the risk

The first step to control risks in a workplace is to identify them. For covid 19, the risks are related to how the virus spreads.

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.

It is possible for covid 19 to be spread by people who do not have any symptoms, including people who have been vaccinated. Act as if everyone is infected when setting up controls.

Implement safety measures

Once you understand the risks in your workplace, you must implement measures to control potential exposure to covid 19.

With an infectious disease like covid 19, you will need to put controls in place that can help break the chain of transmission of the virus.

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

In situations where one or more controls cannot be consistently maintained it is especially important that other measures are in place to control the risk of transmission.

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 people with symptoms or high-risk exposures from entering, you can reduce possible transmission at your workplace.

  • Actively screen workers using the covid 19 screening tool for workplaces or ensure that your screening process includes all the questions from the tool.
  • You can actively screen patrons and other non-workers using the covid 19 customer screening tool.
  • At a minimum, you must have passive screening of non-workers entering your workplace. Post signs at all entrances with clear instructions that include the screening questions and instruct people with symptoms or high-risk exposures not to enter the premises.

Plan for how you will screen everyone who enters.

Use masks as a control measure

A mask 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:

  • as source control: workers and patrons wear a mask to protect those around them
  • as personal protective equipment (PPE): workers wear a mask (along with eye protection) to protect themselves 

Employers must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of workers. You need to assess all relevant factors in your workplace to decide whether you will use masks as source control or if they will be needed as PPE. You will need to assess how effective source control masking and other control measures are at reducing risk.

Not all masks are suitable for both purposes, but a surgical or procedure mask worn as part of PPE can also serve as source control.

You need to consider how the mask will be used to select a type of mask that is suitable for the purpose.

Using masks as source control

All employers should use masks as source control in their workplace, combined with other control measures. The use of source control masks is especially important indoors.

This type of masking is generally appropriate for workers who maintain a two-metre distance from others, such as food service workers providing delivery or take-out services.

The use of source control masks is required by law in most indoor spaces, including restaurants. However, patrons are permitted to remove their masks while eating and drinking.

Using masks and eye protection as PPE

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.

When workers perform tasks that require them to work indoors or outdoors within two metres of an unmasked or improperly masked person without an adequate barrier (for example, plexiglass, partition, wall), PPE will be needed.

Where PPE is needed in a restaurant setting, it will likely consist of a surgical/procedure mask (or equal or greater protection) and eye protection (such as face shield or goggles). This is consistent with public health direction that droplet precautions be taken where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Physical distancing (two metres)

As advised by public health officials, physical distancing is important for controlling the spread of covid 19. Here are some tips you can use to help ensure physical distancing at your workplace:

Limit the number of people

  • Reschedule any unnecessary visits to the workplace by vendors, maintenance workers or others who don’t need to be there now.
  • Stagger start times, shifts and break times, where possible, to limit the number of workers using common areas at the same time.
  • Hold in-person meetings outside or in a large space and if necessary, hold multiple meetings to limit size of groups.
  • Review capacity limits.

Create safer spaces

  • Free up more space where needed by using and repurposing all available indoor and outdoor areas at your facility.
  • Rearrange or remove furniture and fixtures to maintain separation.
  • Maintain a safe distance while handling goods and taking payment, minimize or eliminate handling of cash and eliminate at-the-door payment methods.
  • Assign staff to ensure customers are maintaining safe physical distances in congested areas like entrances/exits and check-outs.
  • Add floor markings and barriers to manage traffic flow and physical distancing.
  • Install barriers such as plexiglass where practical.
  • Limit the number of people working in one space at the same time.
  • LLimit unnecessary on-site interaction between workers, and with outside service providers.

Communicate expectations to workers and patrons

  • Encourage physical distancing and make sure everyone knows the capacity limits for the spaces they are using.
  • Use signage to reinforce your policies and control measures.
  • Supervise and verify that workers are practicing physical distancing.
  • Communicate to workers that they should notify a manager of any concerns about practices or procedures that may affect physical distancing.

Workplace sanitation and hygiene

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 to use:

  • Provide ways to properly clean hands, by providing access to soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Provide cashiers, drive-through 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.

Ventilation and air flow

The risk of covid 19 transmission is higher in more enclosed and crowded spaces. The steps you can take to reduce the risk will depend on the workplace. You could:

  • keep windows and doors open as much as possible
  • introduce more fresh air by increasing the ventilation system’s air intake and avoiding central recirculation where possible
  • continue ventilation and air exchange after regular work hours where feasible
  • use portable ventilation fans or HEPA air cleaners
  • limit how much time workers are indoors or in enclosed spaces, particularly with other people, and alternate indoor and outdoor tasks where you can
  • use available outdoor space whenever possible, for example, for meetings, breaks and appropriate work tasks

Be aware of other hazards that may be associated with some of these actions, such as temperature extremes or potential for slips, trips and 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).

If a worker calls in sick, informs you of symptoms or informs you they had close contact with someone with symptoms, or if anyone shows symptoms in the workplace they should be excluded from the workplace.

Your local public health unit is responsible for identifying close contacts and determining when a workplace outbreak has occurred. You and your workers must follow any direction provided by local public health officials, including self-isolation if required. If you have questions about a case in the workplace or about public health direction, contact your local public health unit.

If a worker tests positive for covid 19, the local public health unit may ask you to provide information such as where and when the worker was present and information about any other worker who may have been exposed. Consider setting up a system to track workers to be able to provide information to the public health units if needed.

You must let workers know if they may have been exposed in the workplace. You should give all workers information about the date and time of the potential exposure and where it took place. Don’t give out any information that might identify the infectious person.

Provide notice

If you are advised that one of your workers 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), 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.

You do not need to determine where a case was acquired. If it’s reported to you as an occupational illness, you must report the case.

Provide information and training

It is important that all parties in a workplace understand their roles and responsibilities. Ensure health and safety policies are updated and posted for all workers to see.

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:

  • screening measures
  • how workers report illnesses
  • how to ensure physical distancing
  • how work will be scheduled
  • when PPE or source control masking is required
  • workplace cleaning and disinfection schedules and procedures

Some actions to consider:

  • set up or use your current internal communication systems to provide frequent reminders and updates.
  • post information for workers and other people (for example, at entries and close to the break room, 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.
  • ensure that everyone follows health and safety policies.

Resources

Resources to prevent covid 19 in the workplace:

General covid 19 resources:

Information on provincial covid 19 public health and legal requirements:

Supporting posters and worker guidance:

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

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.

Updated: October 08, 2021
Published: April 30, 2020