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COVID-19 frequently asked questions

Below are answers to frequently asked questions from British Columbian workers and employers focusing on how to maintain a healthy and safe workplace during the COVID-19 outbreak. Questions and answers are grouped under various topic headings.

The information on this page is based on current recommendations and may change. For the latest guidance, please see the following websites:

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.

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. In addition to updating this page, we have provided additional information on developing a safety plan at COVID-19 and returning to safe operation, including a template for a COVID-19 Safety Plan, and in our COVID-19 Safety Plan OHS Guideline, which includes information on the level of detail required and using supporting documentation.

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. To learn more, read Inspections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employer obligations

Does an employer have a duty to prevent worker exposure to COVID-19 infection?

Yes. Employers are required to take reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of workers and other parties at their workplace. With respect to COVID-19, that responsibility includes following the orders of the provincial health officer and guidance provided by the BC Centre for Disease Control, and implementing policies and procedures to protect workers from the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

As an employer, how do I fulfill my responsibility to ensure a healthy and safe workplace?

Employers have an obligation under the Workers Compensation Act section 21 (previously s.115) to ensure the health and safety of workers at their workplace and places where work is being done. With respect to COVID-19, this obligation includes protecting workers by following the orders of the provincial health officer and guidance provided by the BC Centre for Disease Control and developing control measures to prevent worker exposure. These measures include the following:

  • Developing the necessary policies to manage their 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. Communicate these policies clearly to workers through training, signage, and reminders as required. The provincial health officer and the BC Centre for Disease Control provide the following guidance around self-isolation:
    • Anyone who has had symptoms of COVID-19 in the last 10 days must self-isolate at home.
    • Anyone under the direction of the provincial health officer to self-isolate must follow those instructions.
    • Anyone who has arrived from outside of Canada must self-isolate for 14 days and monitor for symptoms.
  • Maintaining a distance of two metres between workers and others wherever possible, by revising work schedules, organizing work tasks, posting occupancy limits (e.g., on elevators and other small spaces), and limiting the number of workers at one time in break locations.
  • Ensuring that the appropriate number of people are in each area of a worksite.
  • Providing adequate handwashing facilities on site for all workers and ensuring their location is visible and easily accessed (note that providing and maintaining adequate washroom facilities is required by Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 4.85).
  • Regularly cleaning all common areas and surfaces, including washrooms, shared offices, common tables, desks, light switches and door handles.

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 period 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.

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.

Joint health and safety committees and worker representatives

What is the role of my joint health and safety committee or worker representative?

Occupational joint health and safety committees and worker representatives play an important role in helping employers establish and maintain healthy and safe workplaces. Workplaces that have more than 9 but fewer than 20 workers need to have a worker health and safety representative, while workplaces that have 20 or more workers need a joint committee.

The committee or representative gives workers and employers a way to work together to identify and find solutions to workplace health and safety issues, which includes health and safety concerns related to COVID-19. The joint committee or representative must:

  • Identify situations that may be unhealthy or unsafe for workers, and advise on effective systems for responding to those situations.
  • Consider and promptly deal with complaints relating to the health and safety of workers.
  • Consult with workers and the employer on issues related to occupational health and safety, and the occupational environment.
  • Make recommendations to the employer and workers for improving the occupational environment.
  • Advise the employer on programs and policies required under the regulations for the workplace, and monitor their effectiveness.
  • Advise the employer on proposed changes to the workplace, including significant proposed changes to equipment and machinery, or the work processes that may affect the health or safety of workers.

How can our joint health and safety committee or worker representative be meaningfully engaged in protecting the workplace against COVID-19?

If you are an employer, you need to ensure that your joint health and safety committee or worker representative is operating effectively:

  • Ensure there is a mechanism in place where workers can raise any concerns about the risk of COVID-19 exposure at the workplace to the joint committee or worker representative.
  • Have committee members participate in a walk-through assessment of the work process(es) to identify potential areas of increased risk and priority action.
  • Ensure that the joint committee or worker representative is involved in the development of control plans for different job tasks.
  • Get your joint committee involved in promoting approved social distancing measures.
  • Have your joint committee provide feedback on the effectiveness of control measures implemented.

Should our joint health and safety committee continue to meet during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Yes, joint committees must continue to meet regularly as required under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. Consider holding meetings remotely for some or all participants, through the use of teleconferencing or video conferencing, to encourage physical distancing.

Controlling exposure

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 restrictions exist regarding working at more than one work location?

Workers at long term care facilities are restricted from working at more than one work location. The provincial health officer has issued an order limiting the movement of workers in long term care and assisted living facilities to reduce the risk of infection of residents and staff. Learn more about movement limitation of long term care facility staff, as well as other orders from the provincial health officer.

Workers at non-long term care facilities do not have any orders from the provincial health officer restricting them from working at more than one work location. However, while there is no order in place for general industry, employers are still expected to control potential risk.

Some employers in general industry have implemented measures aimed at preventing workers from comingling at multiple work locations. Examples of these measures include implementing policies and procedures, such as changes to shift scheduling to minimize worker contact, as part of their overall hierarchy of controls (see below) to keep workers safe.

In industrial, commercial, construction, and other workplace settings, additional measures include implementing enhanced and rigorous cleaning and hygiene practices in lunchrooms and washrooms to eliminate potential risk where practicable, or to otherwise minimize them, although those risks are currently low.

How should my workplace implement exposure controls?

WorkSafeBC expects employers to implement control measures in the workplace to prevent exposure to COVID-19. When selecting a safeguard or a combination of safeguards, always start at the top of the hierarchy shown below to control the hazards. Choose a less effective safeguard only when more effective solutions are impracticable. Controls should be developed in consultation with your joint health and safety committee or worker representative and continuously monitored to ensure they are providing the best level of protection to workers.

Hierarchy of controls

  1. Elimination or Substitution: This involves removing the risk of exposure entirely from the workplace. This could involve postponing, re-organizing, or planning work in such a way that workers are not exposed to any risk. Having workers work remotely would be an example or eliminating the risk from the workplace.
  2. Engineering controls: These are physical changes in the workplace, such as installing plexiglass barriers in a grocery store.
  3. Administrative controls: This involves altering work practices to minimize exposure, such as minimizing the numbers of customers inside grocery stores, staggering work shifts, making virtual appointments, working from home etc.
  4. Personal protective equipment (PPE): This last form of protection should only be considered after careful consideration of the previous control measures. Some workplaces have specific requirements for PPE, such as in health care settings.

How should I respond if a worker wishes to wear optional personal protective equipment (PPE), like face masks, where there is no specific requirements for PPE?

The use of optional personal protective equipment (PPE) by workers is not addressed in the Workers Compensation Act or the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulation. However, employers are required to maintain healthy and safe workplaces and to institute measures to ensure that safety concerns raised by workers are addressed. In this case, the use of optional PPE by a worker would likely suggest that the worker feels that the risk of COVID-19 exposure is not adequately controlled through other measures, such as physical distancing and hygiene measures. The employer should review the control measures in place to determine whether they are adequately controlling the risk of COVID-19 exposure and whether additional measures are warranted. As noted in the hierarchy of controls, PPE is the last form of protection and should only be considered after the other control measures.

What is physical distancing and what are the requirements for it?

Physical distancing between workers, or between workers and others, is an example of an administrative control measure that can be put in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. The guidance to practice physical distancing was issued by the provincial health officer as a way of limiting exposure to and person-to-person transmission of COVID-19.

Employers must evaluate how to eliminate or minimize work processes that cause workers to work within 2 metres of each other or members of the public. If it is not practicable to eliminate work that causes workers to be within 2 metres of each other, the encroachment on physical distancing should be kept as brief as possible, through planning the work task and providing instructions to workers.

If physical distancing cannot be maintained and other measures, such as barriers, cannot be used, 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.

Employers are required to review their worksite and job processes to ensure the best and most effective method of exposure control is in place.

What measures can be taken to help achieve physical distancing in the workplace?

There are many ways that employers can work to ensure that physical distance between workers can be maintained. Some options may include:

  • Revising work schedules or implementing work-from-home policies for some staff to limit the number of workers on site at a given time
  • Posting occupancy limits on elevators and other small spaces
  • Limiting the number of workers at one time in break locations by staggering break times
  • Reducing in-person meetings and other gatherings
  • Maintaining an up-to-date list of employees at the workplace
  • Using tape to mark off areas where workers can and cannot walk, or to mark off areas where workers may walk only in one direction (such as down an aisle or narrow corridor)
  • Posting signage to remind workers to maintain their distance when interacting
  • Postponing, re-arranging, or planning work tasks in such a way that workers are not required to work in proximity to one another
  • Using machines or other equipment to assist with job tasks usually performed by two workers, such as lifting or carrying heavy objects
  • Managing worker transportation so that two workers are not required to travel in a single vehicle

What other control measures must the employer consider when physical distancing can’t be maintained?

If it is not possible to ensure 2 metres of distance between workers through these measures, the employer must consider other control measures as appropriate. The following measures must also be taken:

How can I ensure safety during worker transportation?

  • Employers should assess the number of workers being transported at any one given time and employ measures to ensure distance between workers is maintained.
  • Whenever possible, workers should travel alone in their vehicles in order to practice physical distancing. If that is the case, employers must implement all the necessary safeguards related to working alone or in isolation, to ensure the safety of these workers.
  • Measures that may be taken to ensure appropriate distance include having workers sit one to a seat, with riders staggered to allow maximum distance, adjusting the number of workers taken per trip, and the overall number of trips needed to transport workers to a worksite. It may mean using larger vehicles to ensure maximum spacing, or using multiple vehicles.
  • If it is not possible to ensure 2 metres of distance between workers in a vehicle through these measures, the employer must consider other control measures, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) where appropriate.
  • Employers must also implement a process that allows for physical distancing when loading and unloading buses or other vehicles. Workers waiting for loading/unloading should maintain physical distancing while remaining safely away from traffic.
  • Employers should have handwashing facilities or sanitizing stations available to workers as they enter and exit the vehicle.
  • Employers must ensure that high-contact surfaces within the vehicle are routinely cleaned. These include seatbelts, headrests, door handles, steering wheels, and hand holds.

What do I need to consider when installing barriers in vehicles used for worker transportation?

Employers may consider installing a barrier, similar to a “sneeze guard,” in vehicles transporting workers.

While this may be feasible in some vehicles depending on their size, type, and configuration, employers should be aware that modifying vehicles in any way may introduce additional hazards to the vehicle and occupants. Any barriers should be installed in such a way that they:

  • are not rigidly affixed to the vehicle, and
  • do not introduce hazards, such as restricting the drivers field of vision, means of escape in the event of a accident, or access to controls.

Any changes to the passenger compartment and vehicle used for transportation of workers must still be consistent with requirements set out in Occupational Health and Safety Regulation Part 17. Any barrier installed should be made of a material that can be cleaned and disinfected and should be regularly cleaned as part of the overall cleaning practices for the vehicle used to transport workers.

What do I need to do keep worker accommodations safe from COVID-19 transmission?

The provincial health officer has issued an order on industrial camps to provide guidance on worker accommodation. Employers are required to read and comply with this order in its entirety. It includes requirements for employers to:

  • Develop a COVID-19 infection prevention and control protocol to reduce the risk of transmission both in worker accommodation and in vehicles used for work and to transport workers to and from their accommodation;
  • Appoint a coordinator to oversee all aspects of the protocol, including monitoring workers daily for COVID-19 symptoms and for compliance with the provincial health officer order. The coordinator will also serve as the point of contact between the employer and health officers or provincial infection prevention and control officers; and,
  • Arrange for a health officer or a provincial infection prevention and control officer to inspect the worksite, worker accommodations, and vehicles at the worksite. The required timeframes for these inspections are laid out in the order.

For more information, please see the provincial government’s Protecting Industrial Camp Workers, Contractors, and Employers Working in the Agricultural, Forestry, and Natural Resource Sectors.

Illness in the workplace

What do I do if workers are displaying symptoms of COVID-19?

The provincial health officer and the BC Centre for Disease Control have issued the following guidance around self-isolation. Employers should ensure that the following workers do not come to work:

  • Anyone who has had symptoms of COVID-19 in the last 10 days must self-isolate at home.
  • Anyone under the direction of the provincial health officer to self-isolate must follow those instructions.
  • Anyone who has arrived from outside of Canada must self-isolate for 14 days and monitor for symptoms.

If workers report having COVID-19-like symptoms while at work:

  • Send them home to recover for the prescribed self-isolation period.
  • Clean and disinfect their work station and or the workplace/tools that they were using as part of their job.
  • Follow any directions from public health.

Employers should develop the necessary policies to manage their 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.

Is there any guidance for employers on including COVID-19 testing as part of other screening pre-work (blood & temperature) for workers?

According to COVID-19 testing guidelines, workplace testing for COVID-19 is limited to a number of specific groups, including health care workers.

As an employer you need to have a very clear policy communicated to workers about not coming to work sick or with symptoms.

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.