BC employers may begin to transition away from posting a copy of a COVID-19 safety plan at their workplace towards a broader communicable disease prevention approach. A communicable disease is an illness caused by an infectious agent or its toxic product that can be transmitted in a workplace from person to person. Examples of communicable diseases that may circulate in a workplace include COVID-19, norovirus and seasonal influenza.
Employers can learn more about the workplace requirements to implement communicable disease prevention under the Workers Compensation Act in OHS Guideline G-P2-21 Communicable disease prevention.
Although there is no longer a requirement to maintain a documented plan, employers may find it helpful to use WorkSafeBC’s new guide for employers to record details of their communicable disease prevention controls. We have compiled some resources to help employers with each of the steps under the communicable disease prevention guide.
As the province transitions away from COVID-19 safety plans, there is less prescription for workplaces. However, you may choose to maintain some COVID-19 best practices in your workplace, to help keep your workers and customers safe.
Some of the fundamental elements of communicable disease prevention are similar to the measures employers and workers have been following during the pandemic, including:
- Not coming to work if you are sick
- Healthy hand hygiene practices, including hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes
- Maintaining a clean work environment
- Ensuring adequate ventilation
- Supporting employees in receiving vaccinations for vaccine-preventable conditions to the extent that you are able
- Wearing a mask in indoor public spaces, when required by order of the Provincial Health Officer
Workplaces and individuals are transitioning at different speeds and some workers and customers may appreciate certain controls still being in place, even if others are happy to be in a less restrictive phase. You may find the Provincial Health Officer statement for employers on transitioning from COVID-19 safety plans to be helpful when considering the transition to communicable disease prevention plans in your workplace.
Doctor Henry recommends that employers maintain some of their current protocols, specifically those that do not negatively impact business operations.
The level of risk associated with communicable diseases may vary on a seasonal basis, in the case of seasonal influenza or norovirus, or from time to time, depending on current infection rates. This may take place at a local or regional level, or in a particular workplace. Therefore, workplaces need to assess the level of risk of communicable disease and plan accordingly.
During periods of elevated risk, meaning when a communicable disease is more likely to take place, the medical or provincial health officer will provide guidance and information about the risk and how to reduce it. There may also be instances where, based on direction from Public Health, employers may need to re-introduce additional safety measures if there’s an elevated risk of COVID-19 transmission in their workplace or community.
How will I know if there is an elevated risk of COVID-19 in my workplace or community?
Employers are required to monitor and review communicable disease-related information issued by their regional medical health officer or the provincial health officer related to their industry, region, or workplace.
What do I do if there is a situation of elevated COVID-19 risk in my workplace or community?
During a period of elevated risk, the medical health officer or provincial health officer will provide information and guidance about the risk and how employers can reduce it. The measures that employers will need to implement will depend on the type of disease and the methods of transmission.
To respond to elevated risk, employers are encouraged to stay up to date by monitoring and reviewing communicable disease-related information issued by your regional medical health officer or the provincial health officer if its related to your region, industry and workplace.
Consult the complete list of orders, notices, or guidance issued by the provincial health officer for a full understanding of the measures that may be required and remember that the situation is evolving constantly.
The majority of measures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic are no longer required for most workplaces. However, employers should implement safe practices, hygiene etiquette, cleaning procedures, and adequate ventilation to prevent the spread of communicable diseases in the workplace.
Ongoing control measures and regular monitoring are essential in order to reduce the risk of a communicable disease in the workplace. Some measures may include:
- Reducing the number of people in the workplace, implementing occupancy limits for certain areas, including breakrooms, elevators, change rooms and washrooms.
- Removing or rearranging furniture in work stations, including kitchens, break rooms, change rooms, and other locations where workers may be close to one another.
- Providing workers with the alternative of working offsite or remotely, virtual meetings, changes to work schedules, changes to how tasks are done, limiting or prohibiting visitors, and reducing the number of customers at one time.
- Keeping existing barriers, or set up new ones. Barriers can be made of any material that blocks the transmission of air.
- Implement enhanced cleaning and disinfecting practices of shared work surfaces, and common touch points. Also, consider modifying job tasks to reduce sharing of equipment, and also consider implementing processes for cleaning and disinfecting these surfaces between uses. Ensure staff are trained on the protocol and correct use of cleaning products
- Implement working alone or in isolation guidelines for when workers need to travel alone due to impediments of implementing physical distancing.
- Consider strategies for shared worker accommodation, and avoid having workers share a room if possible.
- Supporting workers in receiving vaccinations for COVID-19 and other preventable conditions.
Ensure that all workers receive and understand information about measures, practices and policies regarding communicable disease prevention in the workplace. Also, make sure to introduce a way to test the effectiveness of measures, practices and policies, as a way to continue improving your workplace health and safety program.
Sick leave policy
A sick leave policy will provide workers with appropriate guidelines on what to do if they become sick with a communicable disease. The policy should also include a process on how to remain vigilant of workers with symptoms and provide them with clear steps on what workers should do if they are sick or become sick while in the workplace.
As an employer you should support workers and implement safe practices, hygiene etiquette, cleaning procedures, and adequate ventilation to prevent the spread of communicable diseases in the workplace. Additionally, employers should monitor the guidance, orders, and recommendations from public health and be prepared to implement strategies if there is a workplace or community outbreak.
Promote hygiene, a clean environment, safe work practices and a safety culture.
Encourage workers to follow safety practices by setting an example and providing them with specific guidelines and information about what is expected of them if they become sick with a communicable disease. Having additional measures will help workers feel safer and most comfortable while doing their job. Encourage participation from workers to provide feedback about the suggested measures and make sure they understand the importance of staying home if they are feeling sick. Here are some posters that can be used in the workplace:
- If someone is sick at home with COVID-19
- Stay home if you are sick
- BCCDC – 6 Tips to help you prevent the spread of COVID-19 in your household
- Protect yourself and others from Influenza
- Prevent the Spread of Communicable Disease: Handwashing
- Prevent the spread of communicable disease: cover coughs and sneezes
- COVID-19 health and safety: cleaning and disinfecting
- Prevent the spread of communicable disease: How to use a mask
- Legionnaires’ disease from water systems left idle
- Masks are mandatory in this workplace
Provide adequate ventilation and make sure that heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are designed, operated, and maintained as per standards and specifications for ongoing comfort for workers.
Ensure preventative maintenance is conducted (for example, regular filter changes and inspection of critical components).
Make sure the system is properly balanced, which means verifying that the system meets its design conditions for air flow, temperature, pressure drop noise and vibration.
- Prevent the spread of communicable disease: Ventilation and air circulation
- Indoor Ventilation
- Carbon monoxide exposure from heaters in outdoor dining spaces
- COVID-19 in indoor environments – air and surface disinfection measures
Ensure that all workers understand these measures and post the policies, practices and measures in your health and safety bulletin board and places where is easily accessible for workers to read, including your company’s website. Provide this information and signage in a language that workers understand. Be sure that workers acknowledge the importance of staying home if they are feeling sick. Provide them with options of working from home, if possible.
As things continue to unfold, employers should keep an eye on new updates, orders and recommendations from public health. Be sure to review your workplace communicable disease prevention program, assess your workplace risk level and make changes accordingly.
In order for the plan to be up to date, be sure to monitor the guidance and orders from the public health officer that may continue to impact your business sector.
Implement workplace inspections and supervision to ensure measures are functioning properly, followed and maintained.
Make sure workers know how to raise health and safety concerns and work with the joint health and safety committee, or safety representative to resolve and identify safety issues.
For more information and updates refer to: Step 3 of BC’s Restart: Communicable disease prevention
go2HR is offering a complimentary review service for communicable disease plans to BC employers in the tourism and hospitality industry. Click here to register and learn more.