As you are all likely aware, a new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is causing respiratory infections mostly in Hubei Province, China. As of today there is one confirmed case of the virus in B.C.; however, according to the Ministry of Health and the Provincial Health Officer, the risk to British Columbians is considered extremely low.
I want you to know that your union has been closely monitoring this situation since news of the virus first started breaking and we are in direct contact with health authorities as they work to ensure the health and safety of working people and their families across B.C. and coordinate containment and prevention plans.
Our OH&S department gathered the following information for BCGEU members.
What is coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Some transmit easily from person to person while others do not have that ability. China is conducting further investigations to better understand where the disease came from, how it is transmitted and the severity of illness it causes in humans.
Who is at risk of occupational exposure?
The risk of infection is greatest for persons living with or caring for an individual with the coronavirus. This includes health care aides, dietary workers, housekeepers, activity workers and other heath care workers treating patients with the virus or responding to medical emergencies involving persons infected with the virus.
In fact, any worker in direct contact with the public is at risk, including our members working as corrections officers and even clerical positions. Anyone who comes in close proximity with a possibly infected individual could be at risk for contracting the coronavirus.
What can members do?
Although the risk to British Columbians is considered low, BCGEU is following procedures of the health authorities and the BC Centre for Disease Control and encourages members to take preventative measures to help control possible spread of the virus and protect themselves and others.
The World Health Organization's standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include: regular hand washing, covering your mouth and nose with your arm when coughing and sneezing, avoid touching your eyes, mouth or nose, and thoroughly cooking meat and eggs.
B.C.'s Ministry of Health recommends that anyone who is concerned they may have been exposed to, or are experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus should contact their primary-care provider, local public health office or call 811.
BCGEU recommends our members do the following:
Wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) if a risk of exposure to 2019-nCoV has been identified for you. You have the right to protect yourself, to ask for adequate PPE from your employer, and to ensure you are fit tested.
Review and comply with your workplace exposure control plan, policies and procedures. Find out what role you have in these plans and participate in any training and education that your workplace offers.
Know what "leave" policies your workplace has in place for sick leave or to care for your family. Knowing your options in advance will help you make arrangements as needed. If you're uncertain about your leave entitlements, contact your shop steward.
Stay home if you have the flu – or if you think you have the flu.
- Contact your BCGEU Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee Representative or site steward if you are concerned about the level of training or preparedness of your worksite.
You may wish to visit the following useful resources for more information about coronavirus:
BC Centre for Disease Control
B.C.'s Ministry of Health
Public Health Agency of Canada
World Health Organization
We will update you on this issue as relevant information becomes available.
Stephanie Smith, President