As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, our understanding of the virus is rapidly evolving. It is now widely recognized that airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 can occur under certain conditions. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) recently updated its guidance to acknowledge that SARS-CoV- 2 is spread through aerosols (smaller droplets that can hang in the air for periods of time).1 Further, PHAC has updated their guidelines for Long Term Care Facilities2 and Home Care settings3 to include guidance on ventilation at these worksites to control for airborne transmission of the virus.
We are in the third wave of the pandemic. While case counts are starting to decline, hospitalizations due to COVID are at an alarming high, largely due to the increase in the presence if variants. In light of these developments, and in keeping with the precautionary principle and best practices, we encourage all workplaces to review your COVID-19 Safety Plan (CSP) with a specific eye to airborne transmission and ventilation needs.
To assure the most up-to-date practices are in place, employers must fully and seriously consider the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 in their worksites. This includes re-evaluating processes that require close contact with high-risk individuals. The CSP should be updated as needed, taking into account the variants as a higher risk, with the hierarchy of controls in mind4:
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.
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 looking at:
- Effectiveness/efficiency of ventilation in enclosed spaces (for best practices click here)5;
- Minimizing occupancy limits in areas where people may congregate;
- Limits to the duration of close contact with other individuals where possible.
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 COVID-19.
Travel between health regions for work should be limited as much as possible. This includes where community health workers are performing home care visits.
- While Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is the least effective measure to protect workers, following the Hierarchy of Controls, throughout the pandemic BCGEU has consistently advocated for the appropriate usage of masks, both indoors and in public spaces. As such, we recommend that where workers are required to be at the workplace, that:
- Appropriate, high quality masks, and training on their use be provided to workers by the Employer.
- Employers should have a policy and safe work procedures for interacting with customers, clients and others that require masks when they are interacting in-person with workers.
- For interactions with clients who are considered exposed to, or suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19:
- PPE consistent with a minimum of Droplet and Contact Precautions (e.g., gloves, a gown, a medical mask and eye protection) should be worn.
- An N95 or equivalent respirator be worn in place of a medical mask where possible.
As a worker, you have rights under the Workers Compensation act6:
- The Right to Know about all known or foreseeable health and safety risks;
- The Right to Participate in your workplace OHS program: this applies to all workers, not just OHS representatives;
- The Right to Refuse Unsafe Work: Please see the refusal procedure here7;
- And your have the Right to Protection against Prohibited Actions. This means you cannot be punished for raising health and safety issues in the workplace.
For any questions on your workplace COVID-19 safety plan, please contact your OHS committee, OHS rep or local steward. If you have urgent COVID-19 concerns or would like to become an OHS rep, please contact us at [email protected].
You can find us online at http://ohs.bcgeu.ca
1See the following links for guidance/ information on SARS-CoV-2 modes of transmission: Public Health Agency of Canada (October 2020) "COVID-19:Main Modes of Transmission":
CDC (October 2020) "Scientific Brief: SARS-CoV-2 and Potential Airborne Transmission": https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/more/scientific-brief-sars-cov-2.html
WHO (July 2020) "Transmission of SARS-CoV-2: implications for infection prevention precautions": https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/transmission-of-sars-cov-2-implications-for-infection-prevention-precautions
2 PHAC (April 2021) "Infection prevention and control for COVID-19: Interim guidance for long-term care homes" https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/prevent-control-covid-19-long-term-care-homes.html
3 PHAC (April 2021) "Infection prevention and control for COVID-19: Interim guidance for home care settings" https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/health-professionals/infection-prevention-control-covid-19-interim-guidance-home-care-settings.html
4 WorkSafeBC (April 2021) "Controlling Risks" https://www.worksafebc.com/en/health-safety/create-manage/managing-risk/controlling-risks
5 MFL Occupational Health Centre (April 2021) "Ventilation Resources" http://mflohc.mb.ca/covid-19/ventilation-resources/
6 BCGEU Occupational Health And Safety (April 2021) "Your Rights" https://ohs.bcgeu.ca/your-rights
7BCGEU Communication (Dec 21, 2020) "How to refuse Unsafe work" https://www.bcgeu.ca/covid_on_the_job_how_to_refuse_unsafe_work
Download PDF of notice here
Do you like this post?