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COVID-19 Safety And Omicron - BC General Employees' Union (BCGEU)

Our union is once again seeing an increase in COVID-19 numbers throughout the province, with 80% of the reported cases being attributed to the Omicron variant . On January 7, the PHO announced an order requiring businesses to return to COVID-19 Safety Plans. The situation is evolving daily and the BCGEU will be updating you as we get more information.

The BCGEU will continue to advocate for measures that go above the minimum guidance set by the PHO. Read this notice for a list of measures from the Hierarchy of Controls that you can take to your employer/Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) committee to reduce the risk of transmission at your worksite, and for a reminder of your rights as a worker.   

Measures your worksite can take to reduce COVID-19 transmission

  1. The most effective control is to allow for remote work or other alternative work arrangements that minimize the number of workers and the number of customers and clients at a given workplace, and this should be implemented wherever possible.
  2. Employers should make every effort to ensure that employees, customers, and clients that are ill do not attend the workplace. This may include allowing working from home, remote meetings, and/or reinstating a system for daily health checks at your workplace. And, if you are sick, stay home. As of January 1, 2022, all workers in BC have 5 days paid sick leave. Your Collective Agreement will outline additional sick leave provisions that have been bargained by the BCGEU.
  3. Where workers are required to attend the workplace, the employer must ensure that additional measures are implemented to minimize risk, and that their effectiveness is monitored. This includes:
  • Ensuring the effectiveness of ventilation in indoor spaces – your employer must provide the OHS committee with the past 12 months of HVAC inspection reports;
  • Minimizing occupancy limits in areas where people may congregate – this may include reinstating previous occupancy limits; and
  • Limiting the duration of close contact with other individuals where possible.
  1. These measures should also be applied as much as possible where workers are attending clients' homes. Risk assessments and direction from your supervisor must take into account any additional risks due to COVID-19.
  2. Travel between health regions for work should be limited as much as possible. This includes where community health workers are performing home care visits.
  3. While Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is the least effective measure to protect workers, mask use is a critical measure in minimizing the transmission of COVID-19 in workplaces. In fact, for health care workers in particular, the Public Health Agency of Canada’s recently updated guidance supports wearing N95 masks in all settings. Throughout the pandemic, the BCGEU has consistently advocated for the appropriate use of masks and recommends the following regarding masks in your workplace:
  • Appropriate, high-quality masks and training on their use must be provided to workers by the Employer.
    • There is a lot we don’t know yet about the Omicron variant. However, we do know that the available science shows it is airborne. Therefore, our union requires employers to provide and permit use of N95 masks that are properly fit for all workers in all public-facing environments.
  • For interactions with clients who are confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 in healthcare contexts:
    • An N95 or equivalent respirator be worn in place of a medical mask.

Your rights as a worker

As a worker, you have 4 basic rights under the Workers Compensation Act:

  1. The Right to Know about all known or foreseeable health and safety risks;
  2. The Right to Participate in your workplace OHS program: this applies to all workers, not just OHS representatives;
  3. The Right to Refuse Unsafe Work (please see the refusal procedure here);
  4. The Right to Protection from Prohibited Actions. This means you cannot be punished for raising health and safety issues in the workplace.

For any questions on your workplace plans, please contact your local OHS rep, your steward, or your local BCGEU area office. If you have urgent COVID-19 concerns or would like to become an OHS rep, please contact us at [email protected].

In solidarity,

Stephanie Smith
BCGEU President

Download PDF of notice here