WorkSafeBC Home

Education (post-secondary): Protocols for returning to operation

These protocols are for post-secondary education providers. These employers may also benefit from reviewing WorkSafeBC protocols for other work environments that may be found on your campus.

In preparation for the 2020/2021 academic year, public post-secondary institutions collaborated with key stakeholders, the BC Centre for Disease Control, WorkSafeBC, the Deputy Provincial Health Officer, and key education partners and stakeholders to develop comprehensive health and safety guidelines for campus operations during the pandemic. For further details, please refer to the COVID-19 Go-Forward Guidelines for B.C.’s Post-Secondary Sector on the Post-Secondary Studies During COVID-19 website.

Employers must also ensure they are abiding by any orders, notices, or guidance issued by the provincial health officer, and the appropriate health authority, that are relevant to their workplace.

Developing a COVID-19 Safety Plan

Employers are required to develop a COVID-19 Safety Plan that outlines the policies, guidelines, and procedures they have put in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Employers must involve frontline workers, joint health and safety committees, and supervisors in identifying protocols for their workplace.

The COVID-19 Safety Plan follows the six steps outlined on COVID-19 and returning to safe operation. You can also refer to the COVID-19 Safety Plan OHS Guideline for information about developing a safety plan, including the level of detail required and use of supporting documentation.

Employers are not required to submit plans to WorkSafeBC for approval, but in accordance with the order of the provincial health officer, this plan must be posted at the worksite and on their website, if they have one. During a WorkSafeBC inspection, we will ask employers about the steps they have taken to protect their workers or to see the plan if it has been developed.

One part of developing your COVID-19 Safety Plan is identifying protocols that everyone at the workplace must follow to keep workers safe. We’ve provided industry-specific protocols below to consider as you develop the plan for your workplace.

These protocols are not a list of requirements; however, they should be considered and implemented to the extent that they address the risks your workplace. You may need to identify and implement additional protocols if the protocols suggested here do not sufficiently address the risk to your workers.

Understanding the risk

The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads in several ways, including through droplets when a person coughs or sneezes, and from touching a contaminated surface before touching the face. Higher risk situations require adequate protocols to address the risk.

  • The risk of person-to-person transmission is increased the closer you come to other people, the amount of time you spend near them, and the number of people you come near. Physical distancing measures help mitigate this risk.
  • The risk of surface transmission is increased when many people contact same surface, and when those contacts happen in short intervals of time. Effective cleaning and hygiene practices help mitigate this risk.

Selecting protocols for your workplace

Note that different protocols offer different protection. Wherever possible, use the protocols that offer the highest level of protection and add additional protocols as required.

HierarchyOfControlsFirst level protection (elimination): Limit the number of people in your workplace where possible by implementing work-from-home arrangements, establishing occupancy limits, rescheduling work tasks, or other means. Rearrange work spaces to ensure that workers are at least 2 m (6 ft) from co-workers, customers, and members of the public.

Second level protection (engineering controls): If you can’t always maintain physical distancing, install barriers such as plexiglass to separate people.

Third level protection (administrative controls): Establish rules and guidelines, such as cleaning protocols, telling workers to not share tools, or implementing one-way doors or walkways.

Fourth level protection (PPE): If the first three levels of protection aren’t enough to control the risk, consider the use of masks. Ensure masks are selected and cared for appropriately and that workers are using masks correctly.

Protocols for post-secondary education

For further details, please refer to the COVID-19 Go-Forward Guidelines for B.C.’s Post-Secondary Sector on the Post-Secondary Studies During COVID-19 website.

COVID-19 self-assessment

All faculty, staff, students, and visitors must assess themselves daily for COVID-19 symptoms prior to accessing campus property.

  • The BC COVID-19 self-assessment tool is available online to be used and/or to help develop assessments.
  • In some circumstances, institutions may require individuals to provide self-reporting declarations (e.g., child care, health care practicums, physiotherapy clinics, certain lab environments, etc.).
  • Expectations for completing a self-assessment and/or declaration should be made clear to all visitors before they enter the campus.
  • Anyone with symptoms associated with COVID-19, as well as anyone who has travelled outside Canada in the previous 14 days or anyone identified as a close contact of a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19, must self-isolate in accordance with guidance from the BC Centre for Disease Control.
  • Adequate signage (see examples from WorkSafeBC or BCCDC) and regular communication of the above requirements should be provided to everyone who accesses the campus.
  • Instructions for individuals to contact 8-1-1 or a medical provider if further health advice is required should be made available.
  • Work with local health care providers and student health services to ensure that faculty, staff, and students have easy access to COVID-19 testing.
  • Seek advice from the local public health authority around managing cases of COVID-19 in the institution.

Academic concession / workplace accommodation

  • Students who would normally attend campus but are self-isolating as a result of the daily self-assessment process, or who reside with someone who needs to self-isolate, may request academic concession due to missed classes or course requirements. Formal requests for accommodation will continue to be managed through the processes outlined in institutional policy. Institutions should review and, if needed, adjust current policies to support students to stay home if they are sick.
  • Faculty and staff who would normally attend campus but are self-isolating as a result of the daily self-assessment process should contact their supervisor to report their absence from working on campus and to discuss temporary remote work arrangements, if practical. Institutional sick day policies will apply as appropriate. Formal requests for accommodation will continue to be managed through the processes outlined in the applicable collective agreement, or institutional policy, as appropriate. Institutions should review and, if needed, adjust current policies to support faculty and staff to stay home if they are sick.
  • Some Indigenous students may require additional accommodations due to housing or community COVID-19 restrictions. For example, Indigenous communities may have COVID-19 travel restrictions that preclude students from participating in activities.

COVID-19 symptoms

The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to other respiratory illnesses, including the flu and common cold. Learn what symptoms may include.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Most people with COVID-19 have mild illnesses, but symptoms can sometimes suddenly worsen in a few days. People infected with COVID-19 can also experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting a few days after the onset of the above symptoms.

If faculty, staff, or students develop symptoms while at the institution:

  • Separate the symptomatic individual from others in a supervised area and direct the symptomatic individual to return to their place of residence. Arrangements for transportation should be coordinated if required.
  • If symptoms persist, the individual should be instructed to contact 8-1-1 or their local healthcare provider for further direction.
  • Staff responsible for facility cleaning must clean and disinfect the space where the individual was separated and any areas used by them (e.g., classroom, bathroom, common areas).

The following information provide guidance regarding office space including workplace operations, workstations, communal spaces, deliveries and elevator use, as well as working from home.

The following protocols apply to athletics and indoor/outdoor recreation facilities, including gymnasiums, sports fields, swimming pools, fitness centres and classes, track facilities, varsity and intramural athletics, and field trips for recreational purposes.

Protocols

  • Be aware of and follow advice of local public health authorities, which may change based on the level of local transmission of COVID-19.
  • Apply the protocols listed in the Cleaning and Sanitizing and Physical Distancing sections of this page.
  • Reduce unnecessary contacts by reducing the number of individuals per group and maintaining the same people in each group as much as possible.
  • For one-time gatherings (e.g., athletic meets) adhere to mass gathering requirements.
  • Consider providing self-isolation containment area(s) for individuals showing symptoms of illness while waiting for transportation to home or a medical centre.
  • Provide non-medical masks for staff when close contact is required.

Related links

Consider the following for campus transportation (e.g. buses, shuttles and vehicles):

  • Use separate or private vehicles, or larger vehicles, where possible, to maximize distance between passengers.
  • Have passengers sit in a configuration that maximizes distance between passengers (e.g., passenger sits in the back-passenger seat instead of up front next to driver).
  • Assign seats to all passengers to be used for the entire journey.
  • During periods of substantial local community transmission of COVID-19, when physical distancing cannot be maintained, consider other control measures such as non-medical masks.
  • Provide each vehicle with alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Ask staff and passengers to practice hand hygiene when entering the vehicle.

Related links

The following information provides protocols for child care services and day camps.

The following protocols provide guidance regarding cleaning and disinfecting within institutions:

  • Institutions should be cleaned and disinfected in accordance with the BCCDC’s Cleaning and Disinfectants for Public Settings.
  • Develop a schedule that focuses on cleaning high-traffic areas and high-contact surfaces, such as doors and cabinet handles, stair railings, washrooms, shared office spaces, desks, keyboards, light switches, communications devices, equipment, common areas, and transportation vehicles.
  • Remove shared items where cross-contamination is possible (e.g., shared office supplies, coffee and water stations, and snack bins).
  • Provide and stock adequate hand-washing facilities on site and ensure the location is visible and easily accessed. Provide the ability for frequent handwashing or sanitizing.
  • Develop guidance around when faculty, staff and students should wash their hands, including upon arriving on campus, before and after breaks, after handling cash or other materials, before and after handling common tools and equipment, etc.
  • Ensure those engaged in cleaning have adequate instruction, training, materials and supplies (e.g., soap and water/hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes).
  • Limit capacity in washrooms to ensure physical distancing.

Related links

Build a communication plan

  • Develop an integrated communication plan that considers all communication/messages that will be sent to the campus community.
  • Ensure that content is consistent with provincial and local public health advice.
  • Keep faculty, staff and students informed about what is being done to ensure safety and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
  • Where appropriate, include off-campus partners, such as Indigenous communities and institutes or organizations delivering experiential learning, in the communication plan.
  • Engage members of the campus community (e.g., faculty, staff, students, student unions/societies, occupational health and safety committees) in planning communication messages and channels.
  • Be intentional about messaging. Consider the audience, equity and diversity, language, and tone.
  • Ensure that communication is accessible to the whole campus community, including those with low literacy.
  • Communicate that acts of discrimination against people will not be tolerated.
  • Reference relevant public health information in communications and training materials.

Strategies

  • Use concise language with links to online resources and embed video when possible.
  • Communicate frequently and repeat key messages. Do not assume the message has already been understood.
  • Use multiple communication channels (e.g., websites, posters, social media, closed circuit television monitors), including campus and personal email addresses for students.
  • Establish a website/webpage where every update is made available.
  • Provide COVID-19 related information on the front page of high-traffic websites.
  • Consider establishing a call line for COVID-19 related questions.
  • Remind faculty, staff, and students that all health and safety measures administered prior to the pandemic are still in place.

Communication to faculty and staff

  • Communicate essential health, safety and wellness (including mental health) information to faculty and staff in writing before they return to the workplace. If possible, give them an appropriate amount of time to review this material, and to respond with questions.
  • Upon first return to the workplace, provide opportunities to review workplace practices relating to COVID-19 and other health and safety matters. Additional communication may be required as new information is made available that may affect work practices.
  • Provide regular check-ins with faculty and staff to provide new information and opportunities for discussion.
  • Maintain and keep records on:
    • COVID-19 instruction and training provided to faculty and staff.
    • First aid reports and incidents of exposure.
  • Ensure faculty and staff know how to raise safety concerns (e.g., through a joint health and safety committee).
  • Remind faculty and staff of health and wellness supports available including employee and family assistance programs.

Respectful learning environments

  • Normal institutional expectations for respectful work and learning environments remain in place.

Remote learning

  • Students attending classes remotely must follow existing institutional expectations and policies for respectful behaviour that apply to in-person classes.
  • Consider providing instructors with information and ready access to guidance on how to manage student distress in a virtual classroom.
  • Institutions are encouraged to provide supports for transitioning education delivery to a remote learning environment, including providing guidance for instructors and supervisors on creating respectful and inclusive learning environments.

Experiential learning and in-person instruction

The following protocols apply to a range of learning settings including but not limited to classroom-based instruction, trades training, labs, field classes, art, and music studios.

  • Develop safety plans for each campus/building to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, including protocols for access to buildings and facilities.
  • Implement instructor and student orientation procedures prior to room usage where applicable.
  • Where possible, consider the use of cohorts and assigned seating in classrooms for students who work and/or learn together to reduce the number of close contacts and to facilitate contact tracing should it become necessary.
  • Practice physical distancing, in conjunction with enhanced hand hygiene and cleaning protocols.
    • Implement measures to restrict the number of people within the physical space at any given time.
    • Consider using shifts to minimize close contact.
    • Consider supplemental portable handwashing stations where needed.
    • In situations where the learning environment permits appropriate physical distancing, the use of non-medical masks is a matter of personal choice. It is important not to stigmatize people wearing masks.
  • Apply the protocols listed in the Cleaning and Sanitizing, Physical Distancing, and PPE/Non-Medical Mask sections of this page.
    • Non-medical masks may be required based on levels of transmission in the community and where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
    • For activities requiring the use of PPE (including medical grade surgical masks), it is the responsibility of the instructor to provide education and training pertaining to the required PPE, and to ensure that the required PPE is used appropriately.
  • Apply the protocols listed in the Communication and Education for the Campus Community section of this page.

Accessibility

  • Persons with disabilities may be especially impacted by COVID-19 transmission and response. They may face additional barriers, including interruption of support networks, social isolation due to physical distancing and increased risk of contracting the virus. Appropriate supports for people with disabilities should be considered to minimize these challenges.
  • Students in rural and remote locations, including Indigenous communities, may have limited internet connectivity and/or bandwidth. Institutions should be mindful of learning models that require high bandwidth such as videoconferencing, the downloading of large documents, etc.

Community-based programs

  • Many institutions partner with other organizations to deliver post-secondary programs in community settings, including Indigenous communities and institutes. Institutions are encouraged to work with community-based partners to:
    • Jointly develop plans for safely resuming or continuing program delivery; and,
    • Determine whether additional supports are required for learners who face barriers to remote learning, such as lack of technology or online literacy.
  • Faculty and staff are expected to respect and follow any precautions being taken to avoid carrying the virus into Indigenous communities.

See the protocols and additional resources for guidance on food services (e.g., cafeterias, food kiosks/carts, cafés, vending machines, catering, restaurants, and convenience stores) at Restaurants, cafés, pubs, and nightclubs: Protocols for returning to operation.

Housing operations

  • Consider the following operational changes:
    • Install barriers for front desk services and where consumers interact with service providers.
    • Develop or revise policies (e.g., guests, limitations on social events, plans for students with high-risk health conditions, etc.).
    • Transition to contactless payment options and move work order requests to online.
  • Apply the protocols listed in the Cleaning and Sanitizing, Physical Distancing, and PPE/Non-Medical Mask sections of this page.
  • Wherever possible, designate entry ways and stairwells as entrance and exit only.
  • Support the remote delivery of academic programs with internet access in residences.

Shared accommodations

  • If a student in shared accommodations (e.g., apartment, suite) becomes ill, the student should be separated from others to prevent the potential spread of the virus.
  • Assess whether testing is necessary, and then follow public health guidance in the case of a positive test.

Quarantine and isolation

  • International students (or domestic students returning from abroad) must self-quarantine for 14 days. Where possible, they should be allowed to move in 14 days before other students.
  • Assign case workers to maintain daily communication with students in quarantine.
  • Provide meal plan options to those in isolation/quarantine.
  • Wherever possible, consider relocating students in quarantine or isolation to residence rooms designated/reserved for that purpose.
  • Recognize that returning home may not be an option for some students, in particular Indigenous students coming from communities that prohibit travel in and out during the COVID-19 crisis.

Procedures for moving in and out

  • Stagger move-in dates and times to reduce large crowds.
  • Where physical distancing cannot be maintained, provide non-medical masks to all staff and volunteers supporting move-in and ensure appropriate safety training is provided to all volunteers prior to move-in.
  • Explore strategies to make move-in as contactless as possible (e.g., reduce the need for writing utensils, paper forms, put room keys or cards in envelopes).
  • Reduce/remove furniture in common areas where people gather to reduce temptation for large group gatherings. Ensure that facilities for smaller gatherings are maintained to support social interaction among residents.
  • Establish guidelines for entering, exiting, and queuing during move in.
  • Place physical distancing decals and signs to communicate move-in procedures.

Human resources and training

  • Designate a COVID-19 health and safety point person or team.
  • Establish appropriate work shifts to reduce density of staff on site at any one time.
  • Provide COVID-19 prevention education and guidelines for all staff.
  • Conduct regular health advisory sessions.

Residence life services

  • Design robust COVID-19 prevention education and training.
  • Consider training residence assistants via online tools.
  • Consider support services required by Indigenous students (see resources under Indigenous Gathering Places.)
  • Communicate virtual mental health support services.
  • Where possible provide residence life programming virtually or outdoors in accordance with public health guidelines for outdoor gatherings.

Related links

  • Indigenous Gathering Places provide important supports for Indigenous students who may be facing increased anxiety given the impact of previous pandemics on Indigenous communities, and disparities related to the social determinants of health. Institutions are encouraged to work with Indigenous community partners and Indigenous students to develop plans to safely reopen Gathering Places and provide cultural supports for Indigenous students.
  • Access to Elders is important for Indigenous students. Given that older adults are at higher risk for severe illnesses from COVID-19, institutions should consider how to do this safely, such as using technology.
  • Institutions may also consider consulting the First Nations Health Authority for the latest guidance on providing services and supports for Indigenous people.

Related links

The following protocols provide guidance for institutions enrolling international students.

Planning

  • Where feasible, institutions should consider assisting international students with their arrival plans including the development of the student’s pre-arrival self-isolation planning, advance arrival in Canada, suitable accommodation for 14-day self-isolation, providing or advising on safe transportation to their self-isolation accommodation, and systems to support their mental wellbeing and integration into the campus community during self-isolation.

Communication

  • Consider the following when communicating with prospective and accepted international students:
    • Provide information on federal and provincial health obligations, such as mandatory self-isolation, that international students entering Canada are required to follow on arrival at their final destination in B.C.
    • Provide agents, prospective students and host homestay families with federal and provincial health and safety guidelines, including the institution’s COVID-19 safe operating plan and any institution or program-specific requirements or policies.
    • Ensure transparency regarding uncertainty of border reopening and risks of international travel.
    • Provide information on technology requirements to support online programming.
    • Consider standardized information packages and requiring students to acknowledge receipt.

Related links

The following protocols provide guidance to health professionals in community-based clinic settings. Those professions covered under the Health Professions Act may have additional obligations around clinical care prescribed by their professional college.

Faculty, staff and students may be experiencing anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Resources are available to support the mental health and wellbeing of students including Here2Talk offering mental-health counselling available 24/7.
  • Culturally-aware crisis support is available 24/7 to Indigenous people in B.C. through the KUU-US crisis response service.
  • Faculty and staff can access counselling and wellness services through employee and family assistance programs.
  • The province offers a range of virtual mental health programs and services to support mental health and wellness.

Related links

See the protocols and additional resources in the “Museums and art galleries” section at Arts and culture: Protocols for returning to safe operation.

See the protocols and additional resources at Parks, camping, and tourism: Protocols for returning to operation.

See the protocols and additional resources for on-campus personal services (e.g., hairdressers, aestheticians, etc.) at Personal services: Protocols for returning to safe operation.

See the protocols and additional resources for guidance on serving food and beverages at Restaurants, cafés, pubs, and nightclubs: Protocols for returning to operation.

The following protocols provide guidance for conducting post-secondary research.

  • Practice physical distancing, in conjunction with enhanced hand hygiene and cleaning protocols.
    • Implement measures to reduce the number of people within research facilities and within shared common areas at any given time.
    • Lab facilities may be used in shifts to minimize close contact provided that appropriate cleaning and maintenance can be scheduled between shifts.
  • Institutions must be prepared to rapidly scale back research activities or move to full curtailment of research activities if necessary.
  • Safety plans should be developed for each campus/building to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, including protocols for access to buildings and facilities.

Human or animal research

  • For research with human participants, Research Ethics Boards are encouraged to review protocols and, in consultation with health and safety personnel, provide direction during COVID-19. Research Ethics Board direction may include ceasing in-person interviews and focus groups and providing enhanced privacy protocols in technology-supported participant interviews.
  • The head of research at institutions or their delegate will inform researchers on specific protocols for studies involving animals, field work, in-person human subject research, and Indigenous communities. As Indigenous populations disproportionately face health disparities linked to the social determinants of health (e.g., income, culture, access to health services, etc.), faculty, staff and students must respect any precautions being taken to avoid carrying the virus into Indigenous communities.
  • For research that engages human subjects in close proximity where physical distancing cannot be maintained, other control measures such as establishing cohorts or the use of medical grade or non-medical masks may be required.

Research resumption plans

  • Institutions should specify an approval process for research resumption plans that is coordinated with relevant units (e.g., Facilities Management).

The following protocols provide guidance for retail services (e. g., bookstores, clothing stores, printing shops, and grocery stores).

The following protocols provide guidance on general safety practices. The most important safety intervention to stop the spread of the virus is for people to stay home if they are ill and get tested if they have COVID-19 symptoms.

Faculty, staff, and student hygiene

  • Provide and stock adequate hand-washing facilities on site for faculty, staff, and students and ensure the locations are visible and easily accessed.
  • Develop guidance around when faculty, staff, and students should wash their hands, including upon arriving on campus, before and after breaks, after handling cash or other materials, before and after handling common tools and equipment, etc.
  • Implement a cleaning protocol for all common areas and surfaces, including washrooms, equipment, tools, common tables, desks, light switches, and door handles. Ensure those engaged in cleaning have adequate training and materials.

Use of personal protective equipment and non-medical masks

  • For faculty, staff, and students carrying out tasks that require PPE, including respirators, continue to supply/use the appropriate equipment per the relevant hazard identification, risk assessment, and safe working procedures.
  • For instruction in close proximity where physical distancing cannot be maintained, or the use of barriers is not practical, other control measures such as establishing cohorts or the use of medical grade or non-medical masks may be required.
    • Faculty, staff, and students are permitted to use non-medical masks while at work, provided they do not prevent them from carrying out their duties in a safe way.
    • If using a non-medical mask at work, it is important to understand the limitations and risk associated with them.

Related links

Safety responsibility by role

Institutions are responsible for developing COVID-19 Safety Plans in accordance with WorkSafeBC’s six-step process and in alignment with the sector Go-Forward Guidelines.

Post-secondary institutions

  • Engage with members of the campus community (faculty, staff, students, student unions/societies, occupational health and safety committees) in the development of safety plans, taking into consideration health and safety terms and conditions in collective agreements.
  • Select, implement, and document risk assessments and appropriate site-specific control measures.
  • Where reasonably practicable, provide resources (e.g., information, administrative changes, technology, training, human resources) and materials (e.g., PPE, cleaning and disinfecting products and systems) required to implement and maintain safety plans.
  • Ensure faculty, staff, and students are informed about the content of safety policies.
  • Conduct a periodic review of the effectiveness of the plan. This includes a review of the available control technologies to ensure that these are selected and used when practical.
  • Maintain records of training and inspections.
  • Re-examine tasks in the workplace and ensure that safe work procedures are updated with COVID-19 practices.

Senior executive and managers

  • Ensure faculty and staff understand the controls required to minimize their risk of COVID-19.
  • Direct work in a manner that minimizes the risk to faculty, staff and students.
  • Where appropriate, jointly develop safety plans for community-based programs and experiential learning with partner organizations and communities.
  • Post or relay educational and informational material in an accessible area for faculty and staff to review.

Faculty, staff, and students (including student unions/societies and outside contractors)

  • Self-assess daily for symptoms of COVID-19 prior to arriving on campus and only come to campus if asymptomatic.
  • Know the controls required to minimize their risk of COVID-19.
  • Participate in COVID-19 related training and instruction.
  • Follow established work procedures and instructions
  • Report any unsafe conditions or acts.
  • Know how and when to report exposure incidents.

Campus visitors

  • Self-assess daily for symptoms of COVID-19 prior to arriving on campus and only come to campus if asymptomatic.
  • Follow all posted safety instructions.
  • Report any unsafe conditions or acts to campus security (or equivalent).

Related links:

A PDF version of the industry protocols is available for printing.

For more information

The information on this page is based on current recommendations and may change. For the latest guidance, please see the health information from the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control and the latest news from the government of British Columbia.

If you have a question or concern

Workers and employers with questions or concerns about workplace exposure to COVID-19 can call WorkSafeBC’s Prevention 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.

Translated resources

Our key COVID-19 related resources are also available in Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional), French, Punjabi, Spanish, and Vietnamese.