Creating a Safe Office Workplace During COVID-19

As provinces and territories re-open their economies amidst the pandemic, it’s important to find out what you can do as an employer or business owner to avoid risk and protect yourself, your employees, and your community.

The most reliable sources of information for creating a safe office workplace during COVID-19 are the Public Health Agency of Canada and the public health authority in the province or territory where your business operates.

Keeping Your Team in the Loop

As you take steps to safely reopen or operate your business, communicating openly with your employees about the impacts of the outbreak and encouraging them to prioritize their physical and mental health is essential.

Ongoing discussions should also emphasize the importance of:

  • Understanding and following updated workplace practices
  • Speaking with a supervisor if they have concerns, or if work policies aren’t clear
  • Informing you if they’ve been in close contact with someone who has, or is suspected of having COVID-19

Contacting your local public health authority is the best way to determine if you or an employee should be working or not.

Understanding and Avoiding Health Risks

In addition to consulting Health Canada’s risk mitigation tool, it’s advisable to work with your company’s occupational health and safety representative or committee (if you have one) in these three key areas.

1. Conducting a Risk Assessment

Take steps to identify areas of your operation where COVID-related risks may exist and to mitigate them as thoroughly as possible.

Suggested measures for preventing or limiting the spread of the coronavirus include:

  • Using physical distancing and physical barriers to keep people apart from each other and from shared surfaces
  • Limiting personal interactions in settings where physical separation isn’t possible
  • Promoting personal preventive practices like frequent hand-washing, regular cleaning of the workplace environment, and use of protective gear where appropriate

According to Health Canada, there’s a greater chance of introducing health risks into your workplace when COVID-19 is active in your community or when your business attracts individuals from outside your area.

2. Making Personal Protective Gear Available

It’s recommended to supply face masks at your place of business as needed, and to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) as recommended by your provincial or territorial occupational health organization.

Wearing a non-medical mask or face covering may help prevent people who are knowingly or unknowingly carrying the coronavirus from spreading it to others when they breathe, cough, or sneeze in close proximity. Commercial or homemade face masks are especially helpful, for example, in work areas where physical distancing or modifications like plexiglass barriers aren’t an option.

Where official PPE is concerned, you should seek proper advice to evaluate workplace tasks, activities, personnel, and other potential sources of infection, and when training your employees in the correct use of protective equipment.

3. Re-evaluating Your Emergency Preparedness

Every business needs a documented emergency preparedness and response plan. Re-evaluating your plan in light of COVID-19 should include:

  • Assessing if and how new public health measures impact your emergency response procedures (like the evacuation of your workplace in the event of a fire)
  • Ensuring COVID-19 risk mitigation doesn’t inadvertently lead to new occupational health hazards (like urging asthmatic employees to wear a face mask, or propping fire doors open to reduce door handle contact)
  • Making employees aware of any changes to your preparedness plan or practices so they can respond safely in the event of an emergency

For more tips, resources, and guidelines to help you create a safe office workplace during COVID-19, be sure to visit the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

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