Communicable disease prevention
The following information will help you to understand communicable disease, how to prevent it in your workplace, and how to respond to periods of elevated risk.
Fundamentals of communicable disease prevention
Employers and workers can learn more about the workplace requirements to implement communicable disease prevention in OHS Guideline G-P2-21 Communicable disease prevention.
- A communicable disease is an illness caused by an infectious agent or its toxic product that can be transmitted in a workplace from person to person. Examples of communicable diseases that may circulate in a workplace include COVID-19, norovirus, and seasonal influenza.
- Communicable disease prevention focuses on basic risk reduction principles to reduce the risk of workplace transmission of COVID-19 and other communicable diseases. The fundamental components of communicable disease prevention include both ongoing measures to maintain at all times and additional measures to be implemented as advised by Public Health.
- Ongoing measures — Maintain at all times:
- Implement policies to support workers who have symptoms of a communicable disease (for example, fever and/or chills, recent onset of coughing, diarrhea), so they can avoid being at the workplace when sick
- Promote hand hygiene by providing hand hygiene facilities with appropriate supplies and reminding employees through policies and signage to wash their hands regularly and to use appropriate hygiene practices
- Maintain a clean environment through routine cleaning processes
- Ensure building ventilation is properly maintained and functioning as designed
- Support employees in receiving vaccinations for vaccine-preventable conditions to the extent that you are able
- Additional measures — Implement as advised by Public Health:
- Employers must also be prepared to implement additional prevention measures as required by a medical health officer or the provincial health officer to deal with communicable diseases in their workplace or region, should those be necessary.
- Ongoing measures — Maintain at all times:
- Communicable disease prevention involves understanding the level of risk in your workplace, application of the fundamentals and implementing appropriate measures to reduce the risk, communicating policies and protocols to all workers, and updating measures and safeguards as required.
- Employers do not have to write or post plans for communicable disease prevention or have them approved by WorkSafeBC. Some employers may benefit from documenting their plan to assist in planning and communicating their communicable disease prevention measures, practices, and policies. A template is provided at the end of Communicable disease prevention: A guide for employers for that purpose.
- Managing communicable disease at your workplace is part of an effective Occupational Health and Safety Program.
Communicable disease prevention: A guide for employers
WorkSafeBC has developed this resource to assist employers in the fundamental components of communicable disease prevention. This guide describes a four-step process to help employers reduce the risk of communicable disease in their workplace. This involves understanding the level of risk in the workplace, application of the fundamentals and implementing appropriate measures to reduce the risk, communicating policies and protocols to all workers, and updating measures and safeguards as required. The guide includes a template that may be useful for employers to document and communicate their communicable disease prevention measures, practices, and policies.
Responding to elevated risk
Although the COVID-19 virus is now managed primarily through vaccination, like all communicable diseases, it may still circulate. Similarly, the level of risk of certain communicable diseases, including COVID-19, may elevate from time to time or on a seasonal basis. This may occur at a local or regional level or within a workplace. In these cases, employers will be advised by medical health officers or the provincial health officer of the measures they need to take to manage the risk.
Employers are required to monitor for communicable disease-related information from their regional public health officials and the provincial health officer related to their area and industry, and to follow that guidance and direction should additional measures be necessary in their workplace.
Additional orders and guidance
Some of the key public health guidance that may relate to your workplace are listed below, but please consult the complete list of orders, notices, or guidance issued by the provincial health officer for a full understanding of the measures that may be required.
|Agricultural Temporary Foreign Workers||The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries|
|Persons who employ workers in the agricultural, aquacultural, forestry and resource sectors or who provide accommodation for them in an industrial camp or other congregate setting, including a motel, hotel, lodge, or tents|
|Overview of Visitors in Long-Term Care and Seniors’ Assisted Living||Long-term care and seniors’ assisted living facilities|
|COVID-19 Vaccination Status Information and Preventive Measures Order||Long-term care facilities, private hospitals, standalone extended care hospitals, and assisted living residences|
|Guidance for Holding Low-Risk Worship Services||Faith-based services|
|Residential Care Staff COVID-19 Preventative Measures||Persons who operate or provide housing in long term care facilities, private hospitals, stand alone extended care hospitals designated under the Hospital Act, assisted living residences which provide regular assistance with activities of daily living, provincial mental health facilities|
|Hospital and Community (Health Care and Other Services) COVID-19 Vaccination Status Information and Preventive Measures||Employers, contractors, workers, and service providers in long-term care facilities; private hospitals; standalone extended care hospitals; assisted living residences; hospitals; and community health care locations such as public health clinics, laboratories, and private home care|
While the majority of measures implemented at workplaces to manage COVID-19 transmission during the pandemic are no longer required in most workplaces, it's possible that some of the same or similar measures may be required in the future to manage communicable disease transmission in the workplace from time to time.
Please note that the following protocols and resources are provided for reference only, and are not required to be maintained or implemented in workplaces unless advised by Public Health. Guidance around risk levels and appropriate protocols will be provided by regional public health officials and the provincial health officer.
- Maximize available space to accommodate physical distancing and reduce congestion.
- Reduce the number of people in workplaces and areas of the workplace to help encourage physical distancing. Occupancy limits may also be established for certain areas of the workplace, including break rooms, meeting rooms, change rooms, washrooms, and elevators.
- Other measures to support physical distancing include working offsite or remotely, virtual meetings, changes to work schedules, changes to how tasks are done, limiting or prohibiting visitors, and reducing the number of customers.
- Manage the traffic flow in the workplace through directional arrows, unidirectional hallways, and designated exit and entrances.
- Consider creating pods of workers who work together exclusively to minimize the risk of broad transmission in the workplace.
- Considering removing or rearranging furniture in work areas, including kitchens, break rooms, change rooms, and other locations where workers may be close to one another.
- See these resources for employers to support workers working from home:
- Barriers can be made of any material that blocks the transmission of air. For many work tasks, barriers need to be transparent. Transparent barriers can be made of plexiglass, acrylic, polycarbonate, or similar materials. Opaque barriers may work for some environments, such as cubicles.
- Barriers must be large enough to create an effective barrier between the breathing zones of the people on each side. A person’s breathing zone has a diameter of about 60 cm (24 in.), which means it extends 30 cm (12 in.) in every direction from the person’s nose.
- A barrier should be positioned to accommodate the heights of the tallest and shortest people who will likely be near it. If one person is standing and the other is seated, the barrier should extend 30 cm (12 in.) below the seated person’s nose and 30 cm (12 in.) above the standing person’s nose. Barriers should also be wide enough to account for the normal movement of both people.
- If a barrier needs an opening to pass documents, money, or other materials, the opening should be positioned so that it is out of the breathing zone of both people.
- Barriers should not be designed or installed in such a way that they impede ventilation in the room.
- You must also ensure that:
- Free-standing barriers are stable so they won’t fall and injure anyone.
- Hanging barriers won’t swing, which can waft air from one side of the barrier to the other.
- The barrier won’t hinder a person’s escape in case of emergency.
- Barriers must be cleaned regularly to prevent the accumulation and transmission of contaminants. Barriers with openings that people pass materials through should be included in your inventory of commonly touched surfaces and cleaned more frequently. Follow the manufacturers’ instructions for both the barrier and the cleaning product used, to ensure they do not damage or degrade the barrier.
Barriers in vehicles
- Barriers should be installed in such a way that the vehicle remains in safe operating condition in accordance with the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations, Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 4.3 and 17.8, and the Passenger Transportation Act as applicable.
- You must also ensure that:
- The barrier is not mounted rigidly on the vehicle or in any way that might injure someone in the vehicle if there’s an accident.
- The barrier will let the driver and passengers exit the vehicle if their doors become unusable.
- The barrier doesn’t hinder the driver’s vision or obstruct the safe operation of the vehicle.
Ensure that everyone in the workplace follows these guidelines when wearing a mask:
- Make sure you know how to wear your mask. Follow manufacturer or industry specifications and directions.
- Don’t wear masks below the nose or chin. This can increase the risk of exposure.
- Keep your mask clean and dry. If it gets wet, it’s less effective at preventing the spread of droplets.
- Change masks as necessary. You may need several masks available as they build up moisture during the day and become less effective. If your mask becomes wet, soiled, or damaged, replace it immediately.
- Make sure you know how to clean your mask. Wash cloth masks every day using the warmest water setting. Store in a clean, dry place to prevent contamination. Disposable masks cannot be laundered.
- Practice good hygiene even if you’re wearing a mask. Don’t remove your mask to cough or sneeze. After coughing or sneezing, wash your hands. Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- A workplace poster is available for the use and care of masks.
- A poster is also available for employers who wish to indicate that masks are mandatory in their workplace.
- Identify surfaces around the workplace that people touch often, such as doorknobs, elevator buttons, and light switches and ensure that these surfaces are included in the cleaning and disinfecting plan at the workplace.
- Identify the tools, machinery, and equipment that workers share while working. Consider modifying job tasks to reduce sharing of equipment, and also consider implementing processes for cleaning and disinfecting these surfaces between uses.
- Implement enhanced cleaning and disinfecting practices as follows:
- Use regular soap and water or another cleaning solution to clean surfaces. Depending on how many people are in the space and how it’s used, you may need to clean some spaces more frequently.
- There are a number of products you can use for disinfection, including consumer products that don’t require a safety data sheet. However, it’s still important to follow whatever safety information is available for the product. Use these products with caution, as directed on the label, to avoid introducing other hazards into your workplace.
- One of the most common disinfectant solutions is water and bleach. You can make a 500 ppm bleach solution by adding 42 mL (3 tablespoons) of bleach to 4 L (1 gallon) of water. For other quantities, use this bleach calculator. Never mix bleach with other disinfecting products. This this can result in dangerous fumes. For more information, visit the BC Centre for Disease Control’s Cleaning and Disinfecting webpage.
- Some sanitizing solutions contain up to 70 percent alcohol and will release flammable vapours. Use these with caution, and don’t use them if there are ignition sources nearby.
- Ensure that workers tasked with cleaning and disinfecting duties have appropriate training and materials to do the job safely.
- Evaluate the risks and consider strategies for shared worker accommodation, including providing adequate spacing and defining teams of workers who live and work together in exclusive groups (referred to in some industries as “teams” or “pods”). This will help reduce the risk of transmission to larger groups.
- Avoid having workers share a room if possible. If it's not possible, limit sharing to within teams or pods as noted above, arrange beds with adequate spacing, and head-to-toe. Use temporary barriers between beds, such as curtains.
- Develop policies restricting workers or others from worker housing if they are ill or require isolation. Develop a plan to manage staff who develop symptoms of COVID-19 while in worker accommodation.
- Post signage promoting good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
- Stagger mealtimes, open additional dining areas, and limit group activities to decrease crowding and social interaction.
- Cleaning products should be readily available, monitored daily and restocked daily as required.
- High touch surfaces such as counters, handles, and control switches should be cleaned with regular household cleaning products, disposable wipes or a diluted bleach solution. This also includes food storage and preparation surfaces, serving areas, drinking stations, waste disposal facilities, tables, chairs, work surfaces, desktops and washroom facilities. Follow the directions on the cleaning product label.
- Maintain a cleaning schedule and log.
- Ensure staff are trained on the protocol and correct use of cleaning products.
Frequently asked questions
Do I need to maintain a COVID 19 Safety Plan?
No, as of April 8, 2022, employers are no longer required to maintain a COVID-19 Safety Plan and instead return to communicable disease prevention. This involves focusing on basic risk reduction principles to reduce the risk of workplace transmission of COVID-19 and other communicable diseases.
Do I need to develop a written communicable disease plan, and does this need to be posted at my workplace like the COVID-19 Safety Plan was?
Employers are expected to take reasonable steps to manage health and safety in their workplace, including preventing communicable disease transmission. Other than in specific instances where Exposure Control Plans are required to control the transmission of communicable disease, such as health care, your plan does not need to be written, posted, or approved by WorkSafeBC. Employers may refer to Communicable disease prevention: A guide for employers for steps they can take to effectively manage communicable disease.
What can I expect from a WorkSafeBC inspection for communicable disease prevention?
During an inspection, employers may be asked to demonstrate that they have practices in place to prevent communicable disease transmission in their workplace, and that they are following any orders, guidance, or recommendations from their regional health authority or the provincial health officer that applies to their workplace.
Is moving away from a COVID-19 Safety Plan safe? Are workers at risk?
COVID-19 Safety Plans were necessary due to the elevated risk of community transmission of COVID-19, and the need to reduce the risk of transmission to workers and the public. Now that COVID-19 is better managed through vaccination, a COVID-19 Safety Plan is no longer required.
Employers need to remain vigilant in keeping their workplaces healthy and safe because COVID-19 and other communicable diseases will still circulate. Employers need to maintain the fundamental measures to reduce the risk of communicable disease transmission in their workplace, and monitor Public Health guidance in the event of elevated risk in their region, location, industry, or workplace.
How will I know if there is an elevated risk of COVID-19 in my workplace or community?
Employers are required to monitor and review communicable disease-related information issued by their regional medical health officer or the provincial health officer related to their industry, region, or workplace.
What do I do if there is a situation of elevated COVID-19 risk in my workplace or community?
During a period of elevated risk, the medical health officer or provincial health officer will provide information and guidance about the risk and how employers can reduce it. The measures that employers will need to implement will depend on the type of disease and the methods of transmission.
If a worker has tested positive for or has symptoms of COVID-19, what should they do?
The worker should stay home and follow the guidance from the BC Centre for Disease Control, which includes the current testing protocol, self-assessment tool, and self-isolation procedures. A doctor’s note or a negative test result are not required to return to work.
Are workers or members of the public required to wear masks in the workplace?
The provincial mask requirement was lifted on March 11, 2022. Individual employers may set their own mask policies for workers and the public based on the assessment of their risks. If advised by Public Health, employers are to follow the direction of Public Health with respect to the use of masks in the workplace. This may include guidance, requirements, or recommendations for both workers and members of the public.
How can I manage ventilation in a building that I don’t own?
Employers should discuss the ventilation system in their building with property managers or owners to ensure that it is properly maintained and functioning appropriately. Employers can also take other measures to improve air circulation, including opening windows where possible. Learn more by reading COVID-19 frequently asked questions: General ventilation and air circulation.
Can I require a worker to be vaccinated as a condition of employment?
As every workplace is different, employers should seek advice when considering a mandatory vaccination policy, as they will need to balance workplace health and safety with privacy, labour, and employment issues.
Are there industry specific protocols available for communicable disease prevention?
Communicable disease prevention is based on basic principles for maintaining worker health and reducing the risks to workers in all workplaces from communicable disease. More information is provided in Communicable disease prevention: A guide for employers.
Do I need to keep some of the existing protocols from my COVID-19 Safety Plan?
Some of the fundamental elements of communicable disease prevention are similar to the measures employers and workers have been following during the pandemic, including:
- Not coming to work if you are sick
- Healthy hand hygiene practices, including hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes
- Maintaining a clean work environment
- Ensuring adequate ventilation
- Supporting employees in receiving vaccinations for vaccine-preventable conditions to the extent that you are able
Other protocols, like distancing and barriers, are no longer required.
There may also be instances where, based on direction from Public Health, employers may need to re-introduce additional safety measures if there’s an elevated risk of COVID-19 transmission in their workplace or community.
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.
- Orders, notices, or guidance issued by the provincial health officer
- OHS Guideline G-P2-21 Communicable disease prevention