The Federal, Ontario, and Municipal governments have offered specific guidelines on how employers can protect their employees, clients, and the general public from COVID-19. Employers can keep their employees safe on the job and prevent the spread of COVID-19 through on-site best practices, which are laid out in accordance with the requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Under Ontario law, employers have the duty to keep their workers and work sites safe and free of hazards (Ontario, 2020). No Wait Medical Partners focuses on the need to follow appropriate guidelines during work shifts and while at home.
Employers must provide on-site sanitation, including access to hand washing stations or hand sanitizers with an alcohol base of at least 70% alcohol. Employees should be provided with the opportunity to wash their hands often. Sanitation of sites and workspaces is also required, including cleaning and disinfecting of commonly touched surfaces or areas, such as all door handles, railings, ladders, switches, controls, eating surfaces, shared tools and equipment, taps, toilets, and personal workstation areas. Vehicles and equipment should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected at the end of shifts and between users. There should also be signage posted on proper hygiene techniques.
The government has recommended that the safety of custodial staff and other people who are carrying out the cleaning or disinfecting is as equally important; therefore, proper training needs to be provided on the optimal use of these products to ensure that the products are being used effectively and in a safe manner. Toronto Public Health recommends that only disinfectants that have a Drug Identification Number (DIN) be used. Manufacturer's instructions need to be followed and expiry dates need to be checked on a regular basis.
Access and use of shared devices like coffee machines, water fountains, microwave ovens, and similar, should be limited, including the use of common pens for sign-in sheets for the construction site. Paper towels should be provided to allow users to avoid skin contact with items such as door handles and water coolers.
In order to ensure physical distancing on-site, employers should consider staggering start times, breaks, and lunches, and restricting the number of people on-site and where they are assigned to work. Site movement should be controlled by limiting locations where employees can gather, including personnel in material hoists and site trailers.
Also, the number of people using elevators and hoists at one time should also be limited. The number of workers at one time while on-site should be minimized by staggering trades and their work locations, meetings, breaks, tool cribs, safety toolbox talks, and orientations, and unnecessary on-site contact between workers, and between workers and outside service providers should be limited. For example, coffee trucks should be removed from the site.
Meetings should be held outside or in large spaces to allow for physical distancing. Employees should maintain two metres/six feet distance from each other. A face mask or covering is strongly recommended if employees are unable to maintain a two metre/six feet distance from others, including during lunch or in meeting areas.
On-site and production schedules should be adjusted, and the number of workers should be limited to a critical number by staggering work schedules, as well as work-site mobility and transportation, including hoist operations.
Freight elevators should be operated/occupied by only one individual at a time, or where possible, by respecting the minimum physical distancing guidelines.
Delivery zones should be clearly identified and should be limited to receivers and deliverers only. When possible, nothing should be passed between the deliverer and the receiver (e.g., shipment documents and pens for signatures). Deliveries should be unloaded solely by the receivers using proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), while deliverers remain in their vehicles.
Employees need to receive proper training and education around methods to protect themselves and their co-workers from the spread of COVID-19. These methods include proper hand washing techniques, the use of gloves and masks and other personal protective equipment, and hygiene practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as proper physical distancing measures, i.e., how to work safely while maintaining social distance.
Employees also need up-to-date information on what to look for in terms of the current symptoms of COVID-19 and what they need to do if symptoms develop, including using a self-assessment tool or on where to find their nearest testing centre.
The Ontario Government has recently expanded their recommendations on who should get tested in Ontario to include asymptomatic individuals concerned about exposure and continued routine symptomatic testing at assessment centres. This also includes targeted testing of workplaces in priority sectors which work with priority populations where it may be difficult to physically distance.
Toronto Public Health recommends that Employers screen staff for COVID-19 symptoms before each shift worked.
A clear procedure should be in place on who to notify if a staff member is sick. If employees become sick with COVID-19 while at work, they should go home right away, and self-isolate for 14 days. It is not generally recommended that employees be tested for COVID-19 if they do not symptoms.
Entry and exiting of the worksite should be monitored and controlled to ensure that the minimum physical distancing is not broken when shifts begin and end. Non-essential individuals should not be permitted to access the site.
Mental health support should be provided to all workers, including access to an employee assistance program (EAP) if available. No Wait Medical Partners is available to provide psychological supports, including mental health support, and psychoeducation. Employees should be monitored in terms of support, health, and wellness, including access to a COVID-19 Safety Plan & Helpline.
The Canadian Construction Association advises that there be clear signage at entry points at the construction site that outlines the commitment of the contractor to maintain health and safety measures during the COVID-19 crisis.
Developing and sharing policies around illness reporting and on infection prevention and control are also important, and these should be made available to workers on the site. There are specific protocols around who to contact if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, including notifying the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development in writing within 4 days, and notifying Toronto Public Health. A claim should be filed with CERB, WSIB, and the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development should be notified within 4 days, as well as the workplace joint health and safety committee or a health and safety representative, and a trade union if appropriate. Employees are encouraged to contact No Wait Medical Partners Helpline, Telehealth at: 1-866-797-0000, or their primary care provider (e.g., family physician).
Protocols should be established for returning to work. In general, employees are able to return to work 14 days after their symptoms begin, if they had COVID-19. There are currently no tests of clearance that are required to return to work (Toronto Public Health, 2020). Flexibility is being recommended around the need for a doctor’s note, and No Wait Medical Partners will provide daily follow up on employees who are self-isolating at home, and on what their expected return to work dates will be.
Flexible policies also need to be in place so that employees can stay home to care for a sick family member, or if they must self-isolate because they were in close contact with a person with COVID-19. If there is a case of COVID-19 in the workplace, public health will conduct an investigation and assess risks to staff that may have occurred in the workplace. Public Health will also advise staff/workplace of any additional measures needed to reduce the risk of transmission. No Wait Medical Partners ensures ongoing follow-up of employees sent home who may be at risk.
Detailed tracking of worker's status on-site and off-site should be kept at all times (e.g., fit to work, sick, off-work for family are duties, etc.). A list of all quarantined workers should be updated daily with their privacy maintained. Records should be kept of which individuals work together and when. No Wait Medical Partners enables safe and timely triage, antibody testing, monitoring, contact tracking and containment of suspected or confirmed COVID 19 positive employees. No Wait Medical Partners contributes to limiting exposure and risk management and enables contact tracing for suspected COVID-19 positive employees.
The Ontario Government and Toronto Public Health has published the following guidelines on how employees can protect themselves and their co-workers from COVID-19. Employees are encouraged to forward any questions or concerns that they may have to No Wait Medical Partners.
Stay home if you are sick or feel like you might be sick. Symptoms of COVID-19 are known to be similar to a cold or flu, and include having a cough, a fever, difficulty breathing, and pneumonia in both lungs. Symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure to COVID-19, which is the longest known incubation period for this disease. Avoid contact with people who are sick and stay home if you are sick.
Where possible, wear gloves when interacting with high-touch areas. Do not touch your face with gloved hands. Take care when removing gloves and any used personal protective equipment (PPE). Ensure you wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after removing them. Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. This should be done at the start of your shift, before eating or drinking, after touching shared items, after using the washroom, and before leaving the site. Jewellery should be removed while washing.
Avoid high-touch areas, where possible, or ensure you clean your hands after.
Practice physical distancing by working more than 2 metres (6 feet) apart from others. Wear a mask. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Non-medical face-coverings (such as homemade cloth masks) should be worn as a preventative measure towards catching and transmitting the virus, but are not to be treated as substitutes for proper handwashing, physical distancing, and other protective measures. Face-coverings should be created and used in line with government guidlines.
Avoid sharing communication devices, personal protective equipment, cigarettes, or vaping equipment. Avoid common physical greetings, such as handshakes.
Do not spit on-site. Cover your cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, not your hand, and immediately throw the tissue into the garbage, then wash your hands.
Remove work clothes when you get home and wash them as soon as possible.
Notify your supervisor and No Wait Medical Partners immediately, complete the self-assessment and follow the instructions.
Below are some resources on government approved guidelines around proper hygiene and cleaning practices, and the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for COVID-19: