Response to a potential COVID-19 exposure at the Workplace
COVID-19 – Workplace responsibilities when dealing with a suspected case
Hon. Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, has issued the Chief Prevention Officer’s Guide that provides construction companies with the expectations for maintaining safe and healthy construction sites during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What should you do if you are at work and think you are experiencing symptoms that could be due to COVID-19?
- Here is what you need to do:
- Isolate yourself from other workers
- Wash or disinfect your hands
- Avoid touching common surfaces
- Cover your mouth and/or put on a face mask, if one is available
- Advise your supervisor of your concerns
By taking these simple measures you could restrict the spread of the COVID-19 virus at your workplace, and protect other workers as well as the general public.
Check your employer’s health and safety policy or COVID-19 related communication
Your employer would have hopefully updated their health and safety policy. That can be a good reference point for you. Moreover, you might have received some form of communication from your employer with regards to COVID-19 on:
- How they will address the current COVID-19 crisis?
- What are some of the protocols for responding to a suspected case, which will also be made readily available to you?
Recommended guidelines for all the relevant workplace parties
In case your employer has not yet revised their health and safety policy to capture COVID-19, the following has been developed to provide you with some guidance for the relevant workplace parties to respond to a suspected case of COVID-19. Please note that the circumstances and best practices are rapidly changing as the information evolves:
- Symptoms of COVID-19 range from mild ones such as the flu and other common respiratory infections to severe
- Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties
There is a general duty on all employers under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to take all reasonable precautions to provide a safe work environment. With regards to COVID-19, anyone exhibiting symptoms:
- Should be sent home immediately
- You will have to protect other workers at your workplace
- You should inform other employees who may have been exposed of the potential exposure
- You must ask them to leave the workplace and self-isolate themselves for at least a period of 14 days or until a diagnosis of COVID-19 has been ruled out by the health authorities
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Response for employees
The following guidance and recommendations are made in order to assist employees in responding to a suspected case of COVID-19 appearing at the workplace:
- If you are an employee who begins to feel unwell (fever, new cough or difficulty breathing, etc.), you should:
- Immediately isolate yourself from other workers
- Wash or disinfect your hands and avoid touching common surfaces
- Cover your mouth and/or put on a facemask, if one is available
- Advise your supervisor of your concerns
- You can be of great assistance to minimize the potential spreading of the COVID-19 virus at your workplace and protect your co-workers by letting your supervisor know:
- The details of whom you have been in contact with in your workplace and when
- What tools and/or equipment you were using
- Where you were on that day and previous days, if possible
Please note that providing your supervisor with proper history is necessary to help prevent spreading of COVID-19.
- If you are not familiar with the COVID-19 protocol, ask your supervisor for:
- The employer’s health and safety protocols currently in place for responding to COVID-19
Please follow your employer’s guidance for leaving the workplace and returning home so that you can start self-isolation at home immediately and or seek the appropriate medical advice.
- Before leaving the workplace:
- Provide your contact information to your supervisor and employer.
- Get the phone number of your supervisor and your employer so that you can call and provide an update on your status
- Inform them of any possible COVID-19 test results (providing you are able to get tested) as soon as you get the results
- If the results are negative, it will allow any other workers that are in self-isolation to learn they are not at risk, and may allow them to return to work.
Response for Supervisors
The following guidance and recommendations are made in order to assist supervisors in responding to a suspected case of COVID-19 appearing at the workplace:
- Ensure the potentially affected employee is:
- Reasonably isolated from other workers
- Protect yourself from possible contact or transmission by practicing social distancing by maintaining a min 1 meter (2 meter preferred) distance
- Wash or disinfect your hands and avoid touching common surfaces
- If the employee does not already have one, supply them with a mask, or anything to cover their mouth such as a clean rag or scarf and ask them to wash their hands to limit transmission.
- Refer to your employer’s health and safety protocols for responding to suspected COVID-19 cases
- With assistance of the potentially affected employee:
- Create a list of people that this employee could have been in direct contact with that day, if possible, in the previous days.
- Create a list of locations where the employee was working recently
- Create a list tools and equipment the employee was using recently
- Disinfect the area the worker was in along with any tools/equipment and any common surfaces they may have been in contact with
- Ask the potentially affected employee to leave the workplace immediately, return home and self-isolate or enter isolation as recommended by public health officials and seek proper medical advice:
- Since you may have potentially been exposed, request on behalf of all concerned including other potentially affected workers, that the employees share the COVID-19 test results as soon as possible, so those that had direct exposure and who are currently in voluntary self-isolation can be advised if they can end their self-isolation or not.
- Report the suspected case of COVID-19 directly to the employer of the workplace, so they may follow-up with their health and safety protocols and responsibilities
- As a supervisor, you may be responsible to assess the potentially contaminated areas, tools, and equipment to ensure the appropriate isolation along with the cleaning and disinfecting processes are followed
- The employer’s protocols don’t identify who will clean and disinfect. It will be the supervisor’s responsibility to arrange for any cleaning of tools and surfaces that the potentially affected worker came in contact with and how to clean work common areas under the control of the employer such as a lunchroom. Keep other personnel from accessing the area(s) until deemed safe
- The health and safety protocols of the employer may require further actions of the supervisor. For example, the supervisor may be asked to:
- Reach out to all the other personnel that this potentially affected worker (the worker that is suspected to have COVID-19) had recently been in direct contact with. This may include co-workers, other employer’s trade workers, etc
- Identify locations where the potentially affected worker had recently been. These locations are potentially contaminated by the COVID-19 virus
- Initiate immediate cleaning and disinfection
- Identify tools and equipment that the potentially affected worker had recently been using. These are also potentially contaminated by the COVID-19 virus, and those need to be immediately cleaned and disinfected
Response for Employer
The following guidance and recommendations are made in order to assist employers in responding to a suspected case of COVID-19 appearing at the workplace:
- Review your COVID-19 protocols before an incident happens. Ensure you have clear procedures that specify if employees are not well or experiencing any symptoms, they must:
- Stay at home and self-isolate
- Not risk other employees or the general public
- Ensure your policy has established appropriate response protocols that can be followed by your staff
- Once you learn of a suspected case of COVID-19, you should implement the protocols for responding to the situation
- As the employer, you have the responsibility to protect workers at your workplace
- The response can include some of the following measures:
- Ensure the supervisor has requested the potentially affected worker (the worker that is suspected to have COVID-19) to leave the workplace immediately, return home, and to self-isolate or enter isolation as recommended by public health officials, and seek medical advice.
- Consider advising the worker as soon as possible of any financial assistance available for the workers in self-isolation. The Government of Canada has increased Employment Insurance (EI) benefits with no waiting time, extended coverage, etc. as well as a new Emergency Care Benefit. Details are available on the government websites.
- In addition, the Ontario Provincial Government passed legislation that provides job-protected leave to employees in isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19, including when the employer directs the employee not to work
- Direct your supervisor/s to:
- Reach out to all the other personnel that the potentially affected worker has recently been in direct contact with. This may include co-workers, other trade workers, etc
- Maintain confidentiality – review the recommendation the text box on this subject provided to the supervisor above
- Conduct a risk assessment for workers that have worked closely with the potentially affected employee based on the circumstances (including exposure, validity of the potential exposure, and symptoms)
- Possibly remove those workers from the workplace for at least 14 days or until COVID-19 is ruled out
- Determine if the other workers were exposed is dependent on the circumstances of the work process and interactions with the potentially affected employee
- Communicate with the other employers when the exposed workers are not direct employees
- Identify locations where the potentially affected worker had recently been and determine how to address decontamination
- Advise other potentially affected workplace parties and cordon-off potentially infected areas
- Take steps to ensure the cleanliness of the workplace where this worker was working
- Identify tools and equipment that the potentially affected worker had recently been using and how to address decontamination
- Ensure other workers do not use these tools until they are determined to be clean. Isolate the tools and equipment until cleaned and disinfected
- Your protocol for COVID-19 should identify who will be responsible to arrange and oversee any cleaning of tools, equipment, or surfaces that the potentially affected worker came in contact with
It is also important to relay to workers, any financial assistance that is available to help the affected workers who declare symptoms, and the others that may also be asked to leave to self-isolate. Consider providing an information package to help your workers that are sent home to self-isolate.
Please note that the expectations for reaction and resources available along with the protective measures are all subject to constant change in this dynamically changing scenario. Therefore, under these circumstances, good and timely communication to all the relevant workplace parties will help avoid floating of misinformation and misunderstanding the situation. All these efforts will help your workplace minimize the effect of COVID-19 at the workplace.
For the most updated information on how individuals and employers can protect themselves as well as what to do if they suspect they may be at risk, please visit — Ontario.ca/coronavirus. These are certainly unprecedented times. Things are evolving by the minute, by the day. Almost on a daily basis we keep hearing governments around the world making new statements on COVID-19. Without a question, there’s a sense of stress and concern that is weighing on everyone. Therefore, it is imperative that we all work together in this testing scenario to keep everyone safe!