Public Health Guidance for Workplaces
Certain Ontario businesses and workplaces may open as long as they comply with strict public health measures. Ontario businesses who have questions about the emergency orders can call the Province’s toll-free line: 1-888-444-3659.
Hierarchy of Controls
When developing plans for your workplace, it is helpful to think of the hierarchy of controls, where the most important way to reduce exposure to COVID-19 is through physical distancing. Check the information below to see how you can eliminate and/or manage exposure in your workplace.
Adjusting the Workplace
Adapted from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institution for Occupational Health and Safety for the purposes of COVID-19.
- Develop policies and practices that increase the physical distance among employees and clients as much as possible.
- Encourage employees to work from home.
- Offer phone or online services whenever possible.
- Use contactless or curb-side delivery for mail or products.
- Stagger staff shifts to reduce crowds during entry and exit to the workplace.
- Develop maximum capacities or limits on the number of people allowed in the workplace and its spaces (e.g. lunchrooms, meeting rooms, break areas, waiting rooms).
- Arrange floor space to support physical distancing. Minimum recommendation of 2 metres squared and ideally 4 metres squared, for each person (i.e. employees and clients) in the workplace.
- Post physical distancing signage at all entrances, staff rooms, elevators, and in public areas (e.g., cashiers, service counters, waiting areas).
- Use visual markers and announcements to direct traffic flow and manage lines.
- Remove unneeded furniture and supplies from rooms, waiting areas and walkways to allow ease of movement while maintaining physical distancing.
- Use public announcement systems and/or assign employees to remind others to stay two metres apart.
- Modify how you provide service to avoid prolonged close contact between people
- Redesign workplace areas including waiting areas, commercial spaces, and common rooms.
- Close waiting areas or restrict the number of people in an area if there is not enough space to support physical distancing.
- Install protective barriers (e.g. plexiglass) if there is close contact between staff or between staff and clients (e.g. check-out lines, registration desks, etc.)
- Assign workstations to a single user whenever possible or limit the number of users and ensure cleaning measures are in place in between use.
- Find out if a building permit is required to install shields at counters
- Use contactless payment instead of cash.
- Use outdoor space when possible.
- Ensure staff wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) that protects the eyes, nose and mouth (masks and eye protection) while providing services that require the staff to come within 2 metres of a person not wearing a mask (e.g. restaurant server)
- Ensure you have supplies on hand. If personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks or hand-sanitizer are needed for the workplace, check the list of Ontario workplace PPE suppliers.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Face coverings are required to be worn in enclosed public spaces. Read the Re-opening Ontario Act, 2020 and Hamilton’s Face Coverings and Masks By-law to learn:
- When and where staff and clients are required to wear masks or face coverings.
- Business that are exempt.
- Customer/client exemptions and how to address.
- If physical distancing is difficult to maintain, physical barriers (e.g. Plexiglass) are recommended in addition to face coverings or masks.
- Non-medical/cloth/homemade masks are designed to protect others from droplets exhaled by the user (this is known as source control).
- The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends a three-layer non-medical mask. If you have 2-layer non-medical masks, you can continue to use them. If you are making or buying more masks, consider the 3-layer mask for improved protection.
- Where people are likely to come into close contact with someone who is not wearing a mask, surgical masks, also known as procedural or medical masks, are recommended over non-medical masks.
The type of mask your employees/staff should wear will depend on the type of service provided. In general, for non-healthcare workers, masks should be made of at least 2 and ideally 3 layers if possible:
- 2 layers should be tightly woven material fabric, such as cotton or linen
- If possible, add a third (middle) layer that should be a filter-type fabric, such as non-woven polypropylene fabric. A third layer provides added protection.
If you have 2-layer non-medical masks, you can continue to use them. If you are making or buying more masks, consider the 3-layer mask for improved protection
Employers should ensure that employees are trained on the safe use, care, limitations and disposal of PPE, including how to put on and take off PPE and performing hand hygiene before putting on, after removing or otherwise handling PPE.
When you have employees/staff that are engaged in higher risk activities (needing to come within 2 metres of a customer without a mask, for example when serving food) consider:
- Asking customers to wear masks
- Adjusting your processes, for example, if serving food, consider having an end table where plates can be set down for seated customers to reach and pass along as required.
If employees/staff need to come within 2 metres of an unmasked customer, an appropriate mask as well as eye protection (e.g. a face shield or safety goggles) are required. Prescription glasses are not considered eye protection.
- Where possible, consider the use of a medical/surgical mask. Ideally, masks should be labelled as medically-certified or have a Bacterial Filtration Efficiency (BFE) rating of 95% or greater (note: this is not the same as a N95 mask. N95 masks are not needed outside of a healthcare setting). See specification details
- Ask Ontario PPE suppliers about their certification/mask-rating before purchasing from them.
- If information about the mask-rating or BFE cannot be found, purchase disposable 3-layer masks
- Non-medical masks do not necessarily have the same safety profile as medical masks and, when in close-contact, may not protect individuals from infected respiratory droplets as effectively as medical masks.
- Employers are obligated to ensure that the masks used by their staff are appropriate for the task that is required.
- Employers are responsible for ensuring that customers maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from others, and wear a face covering inside their business as well as outside if waiting in a line-up to enter.
Ensure all supplies needed for employees are available. If supplies are needed, you can check the list of Ontario workplace PPE suppliers for personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, eye protection, gloves, gowns and other supplies such as hand-sanitizer.
- Be aware of face covering by-laws and regulations
COVID-19 Symptoms and Screening
All workplaces are required to actively screen staff. Active screening means employers use information gathered to decide who can enter the workplace. Passive screening is when people decide their own risk and make the decision themselves.
Workplaces must screen all individuals (workers, volunteers, suppliers and contractors) daily prior to entering the workplace. Screening may be done in-person, online or verbally.
- Ministry of Health online screening tool for:
- City of Hamilton screening tool
- Your own tool (note: it must contain all the questions from the Ministry screening tool for employees)
Workplaces must be able to demonstrate that they have implemented a screening system and that it is working as intended. An inspector will need to be able to determine compliance with the law. Workplaces can consider various ways of demonstrating that they are compliant with the screening requirements, including keeping a record of individuals who were screened.
Organizations and businesses required to screen patrons must use or ask questions similar to those found in Hamilton’s COVID-19 screening tool. Read which establishments are required to actively screen patrons. Customers who do not pass screening should be advised that they cannot enter and advised to self-isolate and get tested. Records of screening do not need to be maintained.
- Temperature checks are not required or recommended as part of screening.
- Employees and customers should not enter a workplace if they have symptoms of COVID-19. They should be advised to book an appointment for COVID-19 testing at www.hamiltoncovidtest.ca
- If employees develop symptoms while at work, they should notify their supervisor and return home. Employees should follow guidelines for what to do if you have COVID-19 symptoms.
- Signs should be posted at the entrance reminding ill employees, clients or customers not to enter the workplace if they have COVID-19 symptoms.
- Provide proper resources and supplies to ensure employees can follow recommended practices
- Educate staff on the importance of proper handwashing and covering their cough.
- Ensure proper supplies, such as tissues, waste bins, garbage bags/liners, hand sanitizer, soap and paper towels are in washrooms, lunchrooms, break and common areas.
- Provide hand sanitizers (70-90% alcohol) in high-traffic areas, such as store or business entrances, in waiting and change areas, near cash or pay stations and common areas used by staff or customers.
- Remind staff of requirements during in-person meetings, in staff updates, within email/intranet updates and through posted signage.
- Discourage physical contact between staff (e.g., handshakes or social gatherings) during or outside of work.
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; after touching your cell phone or contact with frequently touched surfaces.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve, then throw the tissue in a lined waste basket.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Cleaning and Disinfecting
- Follow cleaning and disinfection guidelines.
- Increase cleaning of high-touch surfaces such as point of sale transaction equipment, elevator buttons, keyboards, mouse, phones, desks, computers, door knobs, light switches, seating areas, lunch tables, kitchens, and washrooms.Create an enhanced cleaning schedule to disinfect frequently touched surfaces and common areas.
- If an employee feels unwell at work and needs to go home, disinfect the area and surfaces the employee may have come into contact with as soon as possible.
- Use cleaners and disinfectants that are effective against COVID-19. These will have a Drug Identification Number (DIN) and be approved by Health Canada. View a list of cleaners and disinfectants.
- Ensure proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn when using these products.
- Ensure that cleaning staff:
- Check the expiry date of products used.
- Always follow the manufacturer's instruction for use.
- Review the required contact time for the product to work. Contact times should be between 3-5 minutes ideally. Products that take longer may require a second application.
- For most products, the contact times are mentioned in the fine print label and they are usually 10 minutes (Lysol, Clorox, etc.).
- For hospital/institutional/commercial grade products the contact times are highlighted on the front label.
- Cleaners used on surfaces that may come into contact with food and drink should be identified as safe for food surfaces.
- Wash hands with soap and water immediately after cleaning or disinfecting.
- Clean and disinfect your own workstation and common items, including:
- Common or shared equipment and tools, such as cashier’s stations, machinery, debit stations, keypads, self-serve kiosks
- Electronic equipment such as computers or cell phones.
- When cleaning:
- Follow manufacturer’s instructions for use of a cleaner or disinfectant and the cleaning of electronic equipment, including the length of time before removing;
- Ensure good ventilation when using products (e.g. open windows/doors, use fans);
- Wear proper personal protective equipment (e.g. gloves and/or mask), as required;
- Thoroughly wash hands with soap and water right after cleaning or disinfecting.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC)
The risk of COVID-19 increases in enclosed and crowded spaces. Having proper ventilation in place is an important public health measure since properly ventilated spaces are less likely to be linked to virus spread.
- Ensure ventilation meets industry guidelines and standards. For more information about whether your HVAC system meets provincial requirements, contact the building manager.
- Building operators should make sure their HVAC systems are well maintained by scheduling regular inspections and tune ups by certified technicians.
- The Ministry recommends these additional steps:
- Using portable air cleaners
- Keeping windows and doors open where possible
- Continuing ventilation and air exchange after regular business hours
- Using outdoor space when possible (e.g. for meetings, breaks and client interactions such as curbside pick-up)
Avoid all non-essential travel
- Employees returning from outside of Ontario are strongly advised to self-isolate for 14 days.
- Employees returning from anywhere outside of Canada, for business or leisure purposes, or employees entering Canada as essential workers from other countries, are required by federal order to mandatory quarantine for 14-days upon their return, in addition to several other requirements.
- People in higher risk zones in Ontario should avoid travel to lower risk areas (e.g. from red to orange, from yellow to green) except for essential reasons.
- Clearly communicate changes to policies in practices to protect employees and customers against COVID-19.
- Update employees on the expectations to follow policies and carry out required workplace health & safety practices. Use signage, emails and in-person communications to reinforce measures taken.
- Communicate expectations and policies to clients through email, website updates, store signage, and in-person communication.
- Plan for employee illness/absenteeism and possible supply chain interruptions.
- Identify essential business functions and job roles, and critical elements within supply chains (e.g., raw materials, suppliers, subcontractor services/products, and logistics).
- Decision making should be guided by public health advice and your own internal business response plans.
- Ontario government sector-specific safety guidelines and posters for businesses
- CCOHS COVID-19 Guidance for Higher-Risk and Essential Workplaces
- Fact sheet: Cleaning and Disinfection for Public Settings
- Preventing COVID-19 in the Workplace (PDF)
- Risk-Informed Decision-Making Guidelines for Workplaces
- Water Safety Toolkit for Reopening Buildings
- How Business and Employees Can Stay Safe While Operating During COVID-19
Posters and Signage
- Poster: Physical distancing (PDF)
- Poster: Physical distancing in elevators (PDF)
- Poster: Close contact within a workplace (PDF)
Handwashing & hygiene:
- Poster: Protect yourself (PDF)
- Poster: How to wash your hands (PDF)
- Poster: Respiratory etiquette
- Poster: Hygiene practices in workplaces (PDF)
- Poster: Putting on and taking off masks and gloves
- Poster: Masks and gloves (PDF)
- Poster: Required mask or face covering to be posted at all entrances (PDF)
Tips to Protect the Mental Health of Your Employees
- Inform your employees about any upcoming changes as much as possible - When people are informed of what changes are coming and how things are being addressed, they are better able to cope with the change.
- Ask employees what their needs are during this time - When you involve your employees in assessing their work needs during this time, it will provide them with some level of control over the situation.
- Acknowledge the many emotions that your employees are experiencing - It is important to recognize that it is very normal for people to experience anxiety and many different emotions at this time. It is important to validate these emotions and to let your employees know they are not alone.
- Ensure that there are social supports available for your employees - Physical distancing does not mean social isolation. Have existing health and safety groups support mental well-being by reaching out and connecting with other employees virtually.
- Promote positive ways to cope through this challenge - Share positive coping strategies with your employees to protect their mental health.
- Remind employees that we are all in this together – The reality is that we are all making changes and sacrifices right now in order to keep one another safe.
- Connect your employees to mental health supports Remind employees that it is ok to not be ok. Share information on existing EAP or EFAP programs that your workplace provides. For additional supports employees can visit: www.hamilton.ca/coronavirus/taking-care-your-mental-health
The resources and guidance documents provided on this page are to help workplaces and businesses conduct their own COVID-19 risk assessment and develop processes to help protect their employees and patrons. It remains the responsibility of the workplace to ensure that it complies with all applicable laws and is permitted to operate when deciding to open. Hamilton Public Health services is available to answer questions and provide general comments about plans, however do not provide advice regarding a workplace’s ability to operate.
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