Health care and COVID-19 safety
In the context of the province’s response to COVID-19, it is essential that health care workers are kept healthy, safe, and able to perform their work in providing care and service in all settings. Ongoing care and attention given to personal protection equipment (PPE) and infection prevention and control practices is essential to keeping health care workers safe. The safety of health care workers is critical in the response to the pandemic, as is managing and monitoring equipment supply so that every worker has the right PPE at the right time.
WorkSafeBC continues to work closely with all parties in health care, including the BC Ministry of Health, the provincial health authorities, health care unions, and SafeCare BC to ensure that all agencies are aligned in communication and approach.
For more information from WorkSafeBC, please see:
- Preventing exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace: a guide that employers may use to assess the risks and controls in their workplace.
- COVID-19 health and safety information: general information for all employers and workers about staying safe at work
- Frequently asked questions: answers to questions from British Columbian workers and employers on how to maintain a healthy and safe workplace
COVID-19 safety plans
Every employer is required to have a COVID-19 safety plan that assesses the risk of exposure at their workplace and implements measures to keep their workers safe. If a formal plan is not already in place prior to operation, you are expected to develop it while protecting the safety of your workers.
To help you develop your plan, this page provides information and resources on keeping workers safe in industries that have been providing essential services since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. We will continue to update this page, but you can also refer to COVID-19 and returning to safe operation for additional information, including a template for a COVID-19 Safety Plan.
WorkSafeBC will be reviewing plans of individual employers during their inspections of your workplace. Please be reminded that in accordance with the order of the provincial health officer, this plan must be posted at the worksite. During a WorkSafeBC inspection, we will ask employers about the steps they have taken to protect their workers and to see the plan if it has been developed.
Ensuring worker safety
Prevention officers are working with health care providers and others to support the direction of provincial and federal public health agencies in reducing the risk of COVID-19 exposure to health care workers. WorkSafeBC continues to engage in education, consultation and inspection activities to ensure health care employers are complying with OHS Requirements, orders and direction from the Provincial Health Officer, the Ministry of Health, and public health agencies.
- WorkSafeBC has maintained regular contact with the OHS Directors of the Provincial Health Authorities to ensure their infection control and pandemic plans are operational and meeting regulatory requirements.
- WorkSafeBC is engaging with health care facilities, focusing initially on the long-term care sector and broadening to other sectors. These engagements are focused on ensuring health care employers identify hazards and associated COVID-19 risks, evaluating the impact on workers, and taking reasonable precautions to control these risks.
- WorkSafeBC has engaged BC Emergency Health Services to ensure they are meeting their obligations for worker health and safety.
Controlling the risk of COVID-19 exposure
Health care employers must ensure that appropriate controls are in place to eliminate or minimize risk by developing and implementing exposure control plans to control the exposure to biological agents, including COVID-19. In workplaces, these plans typically form part of the infection control procedures that workers must follow to ensure that they are kept safe.
Health care employers must follow the direction of the Provincial Health Officer and the Ministry of Health on the provision and use of PPE, including respiratory protection. More information on how to properly use PPE can be found on the BC Centre for Disease Control website, while the latest direction of the Ministry of Health and Public Health Officer can be found on the Office of the Provincial Health Officer’s website.
Exposure control plans must consider both patient care and non-patient care areas and workers. It is imperative that these plans are communicated to and fully understood by workers, and that they continue to adapt as conditions evolve. Employers must also consult with Joint Health and Safety Committees and worker representatives on issues that impact worker safety.
Personal Protective Equipment
Health care employers must ensure appropriate PPE is provided to workers and train workers on the mode of transmission of COVID-19 and the correct use of the personal protective equipment (PPE).
The Office of the Provincial Health Officer has issued policies around Infection Prevention and Control for COVID-19. These policies will change as the situation evolves and must be consulted regularly for updates. The BC Centre for Disease Control website will also be an online resource to check in on regularly for updates.
- Managing PPE to Keep Health Care Workers Healthy and Safe: Ensuring the safety of health care workers is critical to BC’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Health care workers must engage in a full PPE risk and point of care assessment for every patient or client interaction.
- In acute care settings, health authorities must implement the infection prevention and control guidance for COVID-19 as published by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
- In long term care settings, health authorities must implement the infection prevention and control guidance for COVID-19 as published by the BC Centre of Disease Control.
- Health authorities must implement all supplemental infection prevention and control guidance and resource materials for COVID-19 endorsed by the BC Ministry of Health.
It is vitally important that these approaches are adhered to so we can keep our health care workers safe and healthy during this time of unprecedented demand on our supply of PPE.
Resolving concerns about unsafe work
Workers have the right to refuse work if they believe it presents an undue hazard.
An undue hazard is an “unwarranted, inappropriate, excessive, or disproportionate” hazard. For COVID-19, an “undue hazard” would be one where a worker’s job role places them at increased risk of exposure and adequate controls are not in place to protect them from that exposure.
If the matter is not resolved, the worker and the supervisor or employer must contact WorkSafeBC. Once that occurs, a prevention officer will consult with workplace parties to determine whether there is an undue hazard and issue orders if necessary.
For more information, see Occupational Health and Safety Guideline G3.12.
For more information
Note: The information on this page is based on current recommendations and may change. Content from health and safety associations and other parties is also subject to change and WorkSafeBC has not reviewed this material for the purpose of ensuring it is aligned with our guidance. For the latest guidance, visit the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control for health information and see the latest news from the government of British Columbia.
The following agencies have developed COVID-19 resources specifically for health care professionals:
- The BC Ministry of Health
- The BC Centre for Disease Control
- Public Health Agency of Canada
SafeCare BC is the Health and Safety Association for long-term care and home support workers in the province. They have a number of resources to assist employers in managing the risk of COVID-19 exposure, including a new Care for Caregivers website to provide mental health support for health care providers.
If you have a questions or concerns
Health care workers with concerns about COVID-19 exposure should contact their manager, their joint occupational health and safety committee or worker representatives, their union reps, and their corporate health and safety department. Representatives from the relevant health authority and SafeCare BC may also have resources and information.
Workers and employers with questions or concerns about workplace exposure to COVID-19 can call WorkSafeBC’s Health and Safety Information line at 604.276.3100 in the Lower Mainland (toll-free within B.C. at 1.888.621.SAFE). You’ll be able to speak to a prevention officer to get answers to your questions, and if required, a prevention officer will be assigned to assess the health and safety risk at your workplace.