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Returning to safe operation frequently asked questions

Below is some additional information to support workers and employers as they prepare to return to operation in a healthy and manner during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The information on this page is based on current recommendations and may change. For additional guidance, you may also wish to refer to our general COVID-19 health and safety FAQs.

COVID-19 safety plans

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. Refer to the COVID-19 Safety Plan OHS Guideline for information about developing a safety plan, including the level of detail required and using supporting documentation.

Below are answers to questions you may have about developing your plan.

Do I need to submit my COVID-19 safety plans to WorkSafeBC for approval before re-opening?

Employers do not need to submit their COVID-19 safety plan to WorkSafeBC for approval, but 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 their plan.

How will businesses know how to develop this COVID-19 safety plan?

WorkSafeBC has created a COVID-19 and returning to safe operation page that provides general guidance on developing your plans. It lays out a six-step process that employers should follow to prepare to return to operation safely, in a manner that reduces the potential for COVID-19 transmission. See our COVID-19 Safety Plan template for more information.

WorkSafeBC is also working with industry stakeholders to prepare industry-specific protocols and resources that can be used by employers in developing their plan. These protocols will soon be available for sectors identified for reopening in Phase 2 of B.C.’s Restart Plan. This will be expanded to other sectors as more areas of the economy prepare to reopen.

As part of your planning process, you must involve workers as much as possible to ensure their concerns are heard and addressed. This includes frontline workers, supervisors, Joint Health and Safety Committees, and/or worker representatives.

What are the consequences of reopening without a COVID-19 safety plan in place?

WorkSafeBC will be engaging directly with employers and workers in returning industries through education, consultation and workplace inspections. Enforcement measures will be considered if employers are not taking measures to protect workers from COVID-19 exposure.

Will my industry association be developing a plan for the sector and making it available?

WorkSafeBC is working closely with industry associations to provide industry-specific guidance, and we will be reviewing their industry plans and providing input. While we will not be posting industry plans, we expect that many industry associations will make their plans publicly available.

What should I expect during a WorkSafeBC inspection?

WorkSafeBC inspections are an important part of ensuring health and safety in B.C. workplaces. Through inspections, we work with employers and workers to help them take the necessary steps to protect those in the workplace, including preventative measures to slow the progression of COVID-19.

To understand what to expect from a WorkSafeBC inspection, please see our resource, Inspections during the COVID-19 pandemic: FAQs.

Knowing when to reopen

Can I open my business immediately if I already have a plan developed?

The BC government has prepared a plan for a gradual and phased reopening of the BC economy. According to B.C.’s Restart Plan, the provincial health officer must lift or modify existing orders before certain businesses re-open. Businesses and organizations that are not covered by a provincial health officer order may re-open or continue to operate but they will still be expected to have developed an appropriate reopening plan for their site.

How is it determined when restrictions on my industry are lifted?

The provincial government is responsible for determining when restrictions for businesses in specific industries are lifted, working closely with public health officials, businesses and labour organizations.

The provincial government’s plan is to lift restrictions in phases, gradually allowing for more social and economic activity, while closely monitoring health information to minimize the risk to the public. B.C.’s Restart Plan outlines the industries that are planned to reopen in each phase.

Controlling exposure

In addition to the following questions, you may also wish to refer to our general COVID-19 health and safety FAQs for additional guidance on controlling exposure to the virus in your workplace.

Are all employers required to have an exposure control plan (as required by section 6.34 of the OHS Regulation) for COVID-19?

Formal exposure control plans for COVID-19 under Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 6.34 are not required for most industries. Employers that would be expected to have an exposure control plan include those where “occupational exposure” to COVID-19 could be reasonably anticipated, such as employers in the health and social service sectors or group homes. In addition, workers employed in other types of communal living settings, such as workers in corrections, would also be expected to have a plan.

All employers under WorkSafeBC’s regulatory authority over workplace health and safety are required to develop a COVID-19 Safety Plan pursuant to an order of the provincial health officer. The Safety Plan follows the six steps outlined in COVID-19 and returning to safe operation, which includes much of the same process required for an ECP, including identifying potential risks of transmission in your workplace, assessing the risks of transmission, implementing appropriate controls, and training workers.

What requirements should be placed on workers entering the workplace?

The employer should develop the necessary policies to manage your workplace, including policies around who can be at the workplace, how to address illness that arises at the workplace, and how workers can be kept safe in adjusted working conditions. They should communicate these policies clearly to workers through training, signage, and reminders as required.

Employers’ policies should prohibit the following people from the workplace:

  • Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 including fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat and painful swallowing
  • Anyone under the direction of public health to self-isolate
  • Anyone who has arrived from outside of Canada

These policies should be communicated to workers so they understand their responsibility to not enter the workplace if any of the above conditions apply to them. Consider posting signs at entry places, setting out the policy requirements, providing a reminder to workers.

The BC Ministry of Health has also developed an online BC COVID-19 Symptom Self-Assessment Tool to help people determine whether further assessment or testing for COVID-19 is required.

Should I consider health monitoring, such as temperature checking, for my workers?

The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulation and the Workers Compensation Act do not require employers to implement health monitoring for COVID-19, such as checking temperatures or recording symptoms.

Some employers may still consider incorporating temperature checking into their COVID-19 policies, but they need to be aware of the privacy concerns of gathering medical information. The gathering and use of employees' medical information is typically private and confidential and it is governed by Employment Law, including privacy and human rights law in an employment context.

As a control measure, alone, temperature checks may not provide enough information to determine whether or not a worker is ill – COVID-19 has a range of symptoms, so the presence of a fever alone may not be indicative of COVID-19, nor does its absence rule it out. However, in high-risk situations such as facility outbreaks, symptom and temperature checks could be considered if feasible in the workplace.

Do workers need to wear masks to protect themselves from the virus that causes COVID-19?

With the exception of health care workplaces, the use of masks is not a requirement for most workplaces to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

In general, masks and other personal protective equipment should not be used as the only control measure. Protocols that offer the highest level of protection should be used first and other protocols added as required, in this order:

  1. First level protection (elimination): Use policies and procedures to keep people at a safe physical distance from one another. Limit the number of people in your workplace at any one time, and implement protocols to keep workers at least 2 metres from other workers, customers, and members of the public.
  2. Second level protection (engineering controls): If you can’t always maintain physical distancing, install barriers such as plexiglass to separate people.
  3. 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.
  4. Fourth level protection (PPE): If the first three levels of protection aren’t enough to control the risks, consider the use of masks to reduce the risk of transmission. Ensure that masks are selected and cared for appropriately and that workers are using masks correctly.

Please see WorkSafeBC's COVID-19 health and safety: Selecting and using masks to learn more.

Do workers need to wear gloves to protect themselves from the virus that causes COVID-19?

Medical experts say that it’s not necessary for workers in non-healthcare settings to wear gloves to prevent the spread of the virus. Other measures, such as physical distancing and good hygiene practices, are more effective in preventing the risk of transmission.

Other health and safety considerations

What can I do to support the mental health of workers?

COVID-19 has impacted businesses, livelihoods, and lifestyles in very challenging ways, and workers may be affected by the anxiety, stress, and uncertainty created by the outbreak. It’s important to remember that mental health is just as important as physical health, and employers should take measures to support mental well-being and health during the transition back to operation. See resources that can assist with maintaining mental health in the workplace during this time.

Are employers required to notify WorkSafeBC and to conduct incident investigations when they become aware that a worker has COVID-19?

Employers are not required to report or investigate cases of COVID-19. Sections 68 and 69 of the Workers Compensation Act specify the accidents and incidents that must be reported to WorkSafeBC and investigated. Exposures to viruses, such as the virus that causes COVID-19, do not meet this definition.

In cases where a worker contracts COVID-19 and where that exposure may reasonably be assumed to have taken place at the workplace, employers may be directed by WorkSafeBC to conduct an investigation. Employers should also conduct periodic reviews of their COVID-19 Safety Plans to ensure that controls in place are adequate, including in cases where a confirmed or suspected exposure occurred at the workplace.

Resolving concerns about unsafe work

How do I exercise my right to refuse 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.

In these circumstances, the worker should follow steps within their workplace to resolve the issue. The worker would begin by reporting the undue hazard to their employer for investigation and the employer would then need to consider the refusal.

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.

Getting help

Who can I call if I have a workplace concern or question?

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.

For other questions about COVID-19, contact:

  • 1.888.COVID-19 (1.888.268.4319) for non-medical information about COVID-19
  • 8-1-1 (HealthLink BC) to talk to a nurse if you need advice about how you are feeling and what to do next.