Managing COVID-19: Organizational Best Practices & Risk Assessment

Although most regulatory requirements have now been lifted, COVID-19 continues to circulate in our community and caution remains essential. Employers play a critical role in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in their organization and can lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure by following best practices. The guidance below outlines best practices as recommended by Hamilton Public Health Services for organizations to consider. These practices can be implemented in any setting (sport organization, places of worship, event venue etc.)

Organizations are also encouraged to do a risk assessment and are encouraged to review their own organizational policies and operations and implement the appropriate infection prevention and control measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection in their organization for patrons and staff. Organizations should also be aware of requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act when determining measures needed to protect employees and volunteers.

Individuals and organizations can minimize their risk of both COVID-19 and other respiratory infections by layering public health measures together. Layers of protection include:

  • Staying up-to-date with vaccinations (i.e. being vaccinated with all of the doses you’re eligible for)
  • Screening/monitoring for symptoms & staying home when sick. Communicate to employees and patrons not to enter your organization if feeling unwell
  • Wearing well-fitting masks
  • Maintaining physical distancing where possible
  • Frequent hand washing and following best practices when coughing or sneezing
  • Following thorough cleaning and disinfecting processes
  • Maintaining good ventilation in indoor spaces

More information on how to protect yourself and others

Best practices for preventing COVID-19 spread in the workplace

COVID-19 vaccination provides the best protection against COVID-19 and lowers the risk of serious illness, hospitalization and long-term impacts from COVID-19 (long-COVID) .

Booster doses are critical for lowering the risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19. Residents are encouraged to stay up-to-date with their vaccinations and receive booster doses when eligible. Hamilton Public Health recommends that all employers institute a workplace COVID-19 vaccination policy to protect employees from COVID-19.

These groups are at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19:

  • People of advanced age
  • People living in congregate settings
  • People with underlying health conditions
  • People who are unvaccinated

Recommendations

  • Encourage patrons/employees to get vaccinated by reinforcing benefits of vaccination. Share the message from multiple levels within the organization
  • Provide credible information from trusted sources to educate employees/patrons and answer questions about COVID-19 vaccines (e.g. post vaccine information in your organization).
  • Share information on how to get a vaccine
  • Develop organizational policies that assist staff to get vaccinated (e.g. offering flexible hours)

Resources

While no longer required under provincial legislation, a Safety Plan can help your organization adopt good practices to control the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Even if you decide not to have a Safety Plan, existing health & safety legislations require that workplaces have measures and procedures in place if there is an active outbreak of COVID-19 in the organization or there are people in the organization who are suspect, probable or confirmed positive for COVID-19.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act employers are required to take every reasonable precaution to protect the health and safety of workers. This includes protecting employees and volunteers from exposure to infectious diseases at work.

Recommendations

  • Educate staff about the signs and symptoms of COVID-19  
  • Develop policies to help staff stay home when they are sick and to be sent home if becoming sick at work
  • Maintain communications to ensure staff are aware of all organizational policies and procedures

Resources

The risk of COVID-19 increases in enclosed and crowded spaces. Having proper ventilation in place is an important public health measure. Properly ventilated spaces are less likely to be linked to virus spread.

Increasing the amount of air that’s exchanged indoors decreases the likelihood of COVID-19 spread and other respiratory infections in the workplace. 

Recommendations

  • Ensure HVAC systems are well maintained by scheduling regular inspections and tune ups by certified technicians.
  • Adjust HVAC systems to increase the amount of fresh air and reduce recirculation
  • Open windows and doors where possible to increase air circulation

Resources

Stay home if feeling unwell and encourage employees to do the same by having supportive policies in place.  Businesses and other settings may choose to continue require employees to complete screening. Learn more about current requirements from the Ontario government

Recommendations

  • Let people know not to enter the building if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or are required to isolate
  • Consider posting signs near entrances (i.e. passive screening) so that people know not to enter the building if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or are required to isolate
  • Consider asking staff to complete a health screening before coming to work each day
  • Review your sick leave policies or establish new non-punitive sick leave policies. Make sure employees know how to access financial supports that are available to them.

Resources

Even with most masking requirements being lifted, masking remains a vital part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

High-quality, well-fitted face coverings can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections. Individuals who wear a well-fitting mask are protecting others around them. Certain types of masks, such as medical masks, protect both others around the wearer as well as the wearer themselves.

Masking should especially be considered in indoor settings that are crowded and/or with poor ventilation. It is also especially important to wear a mask if you are more at risk of severe disease or outcomes, around others who are at risk of more severe disease or outcomes, or visiting a group living setting.

Recommendations

  • Consider displaying signs at entrances and inside the building to remind people about wearing a mask
  • Consider providing masks for anyone who forgets to bring one
  • Encourage patrons to wear a mask indoors, especially when physical distancing is not possible
  • Protect the health and safety of your staff by ensuring that staff who are unable to physically distance are wearing a medical mask
  • Train staff on the care, use and limitations of face masks

Resources

COVID-19 and many other respiratory illnesses are spread more easily during close contact (e.g. congestion and crowding). Increasing the space between individuals – ideally to at least 2 metres apart- can help to limit the spread of the virus.

Recommendations

  • Identify areas where crowding and bottlenecks are common, such as lobbies and washrooms, and use staff, barriers or signage to redirect people who may gather in these areas
  • Consider requiring appointments/reservations during peak times to limit lines and crowding

Resources

The virus that causes COVID-19 may be transferred to surfaces or objects. Proper handwashing helps to eliminate contact transmission of COVID-19 and other germs.

Recommendations

  • Remind employees to clean their hands frequently and thoroughly, especially before preparing, serving and eating food.
  • Ensure employees have access to hand hygiene stations supplied with soap and water and/or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Consider access to hand hygiene stations for patrons
  • Train employees on proper hand hygiene and cough and sneeze etiquette (e.g. sneeze and cough into their sleeve and avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth)
  • Ensure washrooms, lunchrooms, break and common areas have the proper supplies (e.g. waste bins with garbage bags, no touch garbage cans, hand sanitizer and/or soap and paper towels.

General cleaning and disinfecting guidelines should be followed to limit the potential spread of germs. Determine which surfaces are considered high-touch and consider cleaning and disinfecting them more often. Wash hands with soap and water immediately after cleaning or disinfecting.

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces as needed to maintain a sanitary condition
  • Review and follow cleaning/disinfecting processes to ensure that they are thorough and frequent

Resources

Additional sector specific guidance

In addition to the above, specific guidance has been developed for organizations hosting events, places of worship and sport facilities. Additional guidance has also been developed for other sections by the Ministry

Events, where large number of individuals congregate, have the potential to result in increased levels of COVID-19 spread. Event organizers can help to lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure and other respiratory illnesses for people participating in events and gatherings.

Public health measures – actions taken to reduce an individual’s risk to COVID-19 and other illnesses like the flu- such as staying home when sick and regular hand hygiene- can help to reduce spread and are most effective when layered together.

Individuals and organizations can protect themselves and reduce COVID-19 transmission by staying up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccinations, practicing physical distancing, participating in outdoor events where possible, improving indoor ventilation, and masking when physical distancing is difficult to maintain.

Recommendations

  • Prior to hosting an event, consider doing a risk assessment (e.g. what are the current rates of COVID-19 in the community? If they are high, can a different date or modifications be considered?)
  • Consider implementing or encouraging other public health measures based on the risk assessment, including event setting and rate of COVID-19 in the community (e.g. if COVID-19 is low, mask wearing may be based on personal preference informed by personal level of risk. When COVID-19 community levels are high, consider encouraging universal masking when attending the event as an additional layer of protection).
  • Encourage individuals to assess their personal risk and make informed decisions before attending or hosting a gathering, event or celebration, e.g.
    • Individuals at higher risk of serious COVID-19 impacts should be mindful of their surroundings
    • Individuals who plan to visit friends/family who are at higher risk of serious COVID-19 impacts, should avoid crowded spaces in the days leading up to their visit.
  • Ensure you are aware of best practices for hosting an event

Resources

Faith community leaders/organizers can help to lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure for people participating in religious services, events or gatherings. Hamilton Public Health Services (HPHS) encourages faith leaders to continue to follow best practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

In addition to the general best practice guidance listed above, HPHS urges faith community leaders to consider specific recommendations that apply to their setting.

Recommendations

  • Consider doing a risk assessment (e.g. what are the current rates of COVID-19 in the community? If they are high, can modifications be considered?)
  • Consider suspending, modifying or adapting higher-risk activities, especially when rates of COVID-19 in the community are high (e.g. consider using audio or video recordings instead of live singing, discourage group singing, suspend or modify communion etc.)
  • If individuals are performing or singing, encourage them to wear a well-fitted mask. If they remove their mask, encourage individuals to stand at least 2 metres from others, not face each other, and/or use an impermeable barrier (e.g. plexiglass)
  • Limit physical contact by discouraging hand shaking and hugging. Encourage people to greet each other with a wave, bow or other gesture

Sports and recreation organizers can help to lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure for people participating in physical activity. While provincial and local requirements are no longer in place, Hamilton Public Health Services (HPHS) encourages sport and recreation organizers to continue following their sport organization guidance and best practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

In addition to the general best practice guidance listed above, HPHS urges sport and recreation organizers to consider specific recommendations that apply to their setting.

Recommendations

  • Consider doing a risk assessment (e.g. what are the current rates of COVID-19 in the community? If they are high, can modifications be considered?)
  • Encourage individuals to assess their personal risk and make informed decisions before participating in indoor physical activity, especially if physical distancing cannot be maintained, e.g.
    • Individuals at higher risk of serious COVID-19 impacts should be mindful of their surroundings
    • Individuals who plan to visit friends/family who are at higher risk of serious COVID-19 impacts, should avoid crowded spaces in the days leading up to their visit.
  • Consider suspending, modifying or adapting higher-risk activities, especially when rates of COVID-19 in the community are high (e.g. consider playing outdoors where possible, consider non-contact sports when possible, refrain from sharing towels or other personal items).
  • Continue using water fountains as water-filling stations only

Resources