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Your health and safety when returning to campus this September - BCGEU

As you’re aware, the provincial government has asked post-secondary institutions to return to full on-campus operations. Government has issued guidelines and it is up to each institution to develop their own plan to implement.
We want you to know that the BCGEU had a chance to review - but not to influence - the guidelines. The union has been encouraging all BCGEU members and British Columbians to get vaccinated and to wear a mask. The BCGEU Executive also signed on to this letter, calling for stronger public health measures on post-secondary campuses.
On August 24, the provincial government announced that the return-to-campus guidelines will be updated to reflect the province’s new mask mandate and proof of vaccine requirement for on-campus services. Your union supports any measure that prioritizes your health and safety, including these new measures and enhanced guidelines.
If you have concerns with the way the guidelines are being implemented at your institution, please connect with your union OHS rep or steward. Together, we will monitor and ensure return-to-campus plans prioritize your health and safety.
Finally – although the responsibility of maintaining a safe workplace is your employer’s, here are measures you can take to protect yourself:
Caring for yourself and family when working amongst potentially unvaccinated people:

  1. Get vaccinated. The best way to protect yourself and your family is to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Doing so has been shown to be highly effective and significantly reduces the community risk of COVID-19 in British Columbia. Your employer should be supportive of you receiving vaccinations to the extent that they are able, e.g., by allowing you paid leave to do so.
  2. Familiarize yourself with your workplace's communicable disease prevention plan and follow it. Ask questions and raise any concerns that you have about the plan.. During early stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 safety plans were necessary due to the elevated risk of community transmission. Now that COVID-19 is better managed through vaccination, COVID-19 safety plans are no longer required in the workplace. Instead, measures based on the principles of communicable disease prevention are to be implemented to reduce the risk of transmission. Your employer’s workplace communicable disease prevention plan should include measures to maintain a clean work environment and an effective ventilation system. It should also include ways to ensure that workers and students that have symptoms do not come to the workplace.

  3. Do NOT go to work if you are sick and use your paid sick leave.
  4. Maintain good hand hygiene practices.
  5. Wear a mask.
  6. Follow public health guidance both on and off campus.

Additional resources about keeping yourself and family safe during this time:

Caring for your mental health (i.e., fear, anxiety, stress) in this new phase of the pandemic:

  1. Access a counselling or wellness service through your EFAP program.
  2. Consult COVID-19 specific resources from the Mental Health Commission of Canada here.
  3. Stay active and keep yourself busy with activities you enjoy.
  4. Stay connected with friends and family while still practicing physical distancing.
  5. Find balance by staying informed, but know when to take a break from COVID-19 news.
  6. Be kind to yourself – this is a difficult time, and you’re doing your best to manage a challenging situation.
  7. Take care of your body by eating and sleeping well, exercising and meditating.
  8. Reach out for help! Talk to a family member or friend, and seek professional support if needed.

What to expect in an employer’s communicable disease plan:
As of July 1, 2021, as BC’s Restart Phase 3 began, employers are no longer required to maintain a COVID-19 Safety Plan and instead we have transitioned to general workplace communicable disease prevention. This means that employers are expected to take reasonable steps to manage health and safety in their workplace, including preventing communicable disease transmission. However, although employers are encouraged to do so, these plans do not have to be written or posted.
Some protocols from COVID-19 Safety Plans are fundamental elements of communicable disease prevention and should remain in place, including:

  • Not coming to work if sick (daily self-administered health checks)
  • Healthy hand hygiene practices, including hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes
  • Maintaining a clean work environment
  • Ensuring adequate ventilation
  • Employers supporting employees in receiving vaccinations for vaccine-preventable conditions to the extent they are able
  • Wearing masks if recommended or required by public health (note: as of August 25, masks are mandatory in indoor public spaces, including on-campus services)

Although not required, employers are encouraged to maintain protocols such as physical distancing and barriers. Joint Occupational Health and Safety committees, on which your union OHS reps participate, can make recommendations to employers to introduce protocols that will enhance workplace safety.
More information about communicable disease plans can be found on the WorkSafeBC website here.
What is considered “unsafe work,” now that employers are to use communicable disease plans rather than COVID-19 Safety Plans?
Everyone accessing a post-secondary campus responsible to make  a daily health self-assessment and to not attend campus when they are ill.
If you see anyone coming to campus with signs of a communicable disease (e.g., fever and/or chills, recent onset of coughing, diarrhea, etc.), report it to your employer. The employer should have policies in place to avoid having staff and students at the workplace/campus when they are sick. It is important to note that it is the responsibility of employers/supervisors – not you, as a worker – to enforce the employer’s policies.
How to report unsafe work:
If you are assigned work that you feel is unsafe, follow the process outlined in Section 3.12 of the Occupational Health and Safety regulation, outlined here. If you have questions or concerns about unsafe work or how to report it, connect with your union OHS rep.

In solidarity,
Cindy Battersby
BCGEU Vice President, Component 7 (Education, Scientific, Technical and Administration)