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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. You do not need a formal plan in place to begin operation, but are expected to develop it while protecting the safety of your workers.

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?

WorkSafeBC will not be reviewing or approving the plans of individual employers, 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 or to see the plan if it has been developed.

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.

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.

Does my workplace need an exposure control plan specific to COVID-19?

Formal exposure control plans 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” 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.

Employers in general industry, such as construction and manufacturing, would not be required to have an exposure control plan but would be required under section 5.2 to implement procedures to minimize or eliminate the risk of exposure to biological agents, such as COVID-19. The requirements include a provision for procedures to eliminate or minimize the risk of exposure, communicating precautions to workers, and training supervisors and workers to follow the precautions.

Employers must also undertake regular inspections of the workplace (section 3.5) and remedy unsafe or harmful conditions without delay (section 3.9). With respect to potential COVID-19 exposures, employers should ensure that physical distancing is maintained wherever possible, review work procedures to ensure appropriate distancing, identify potential means of transmission on surfaces, and minimize worker contact with those surfaces.

What requirements should be placed on workers entering the workplace?

The employer should develop policies around who can be at the workplace, including policies around sick workers and travellers.

Employers should ensure that the following workers do not come to work:

  • Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 including fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat and painful swallowing, must self-isolate at home for a minimum of 10 days
  • Anyone under the direction of public health to self-isolate must follow those instructions
  • Anyone who has arrived from outside of Canada, or who is a contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case, to self-isolate for 14 days and monitor for symptoms

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, and that supervisors may ask some simple questions upon entry or during shift to ensure compliance. 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, supply workers with personal protective equipment (PPE), such as non-medical masks. PPE should not be used as the only control measure. It should only be used in combination with other measures.

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 you 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.

Employers may choose to incorporate the use of gloves in combination with other measures to further reduce the risk of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19. Gloves may be considered as additional protective measures in circumstances where workers are touching items in common areas, particularly materials with which other workers have or will come into contact.

Gloves are required for some activities, such as when cleaning and disinfecting common areas, or those performing first aid.

Employers who opt to incorporate the use of gloves into their control measures must ensure that workers are using them in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and good hygiene practices. This includes:

  • Choosing the proper gloves for the chemicals or other materials you are handling.
  • Proper donning and doffing gloves to minimize contamination. If you are wearing a mask, put your gloves on last, and take them off first when you are finished. Wash your hands before and after wearing gloves.
  • Changing gloves after there is a tear, damage, or puncture.
  • Not using hand sanitizer on gloves.

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.

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.