Inspections and consultations during the COVID-19 pandemic
WorkSafeBC inspections and consultations are an important part of ensuring health and safety in B.C. workplaces. WorkSafeBC officers may call or visit unannounced to evaluate how you are protecting your workers and how you are applying the appropriate safeguards to properly manage the overall risk of COVID-19 exposures.
Most inspections are conducted on site, meaning a WorkSafeBC prevention officer will attend the workplace to meet and speak to an employer and worker representative to confirm that a COVID-19 Safety Plan is in place and that it is functioning appropriately.
In order to assess the effectiveness of a workplace’s COVID-19 Safety Plan, officers will tour the worksite and will ask employers and workers a number of questions, including how the plan was developed, the type of protocols in place at the workplace, the involvement of workers and joint committees in the development and monitoring of the plan, and communication and training at the workplace. Employers are encouraged to refer to Reviewing and updating your COVID-19 safety plan: A guide for employers, which will help prepare you for an inspection by reviewing much of what an officer might review during an inspection.
Some inspections are conducted remotely, which means that an officer will conduct the inspection by telephone or using online conferencing tools. Remote inspections were more common at the beginning of the pandemic response, when approximately half of inspections were conducted remotely. Today, remote inspections account for fewer than 20 percent of COVID-19 inspections.
There are a number of reasons for conducting remote inspections, including:
- When an officer has already conducted an on-site inspection and is following up on outstanding items
- When the workplace is in a distant or remote location that prevents the officer from attending on site due to time constraints or logistics of travel (including COVID-19 travel restrictions)
- For inspections in some workplaces, like health care, where officers do not want to potentially introduce additional COVID-19 health and safety risks to the environment by attending on site
The questions that a prevention officer asks in a remote inspection are the same as those in an on-site inspection. These questions assess the employer’s COVID-19 Safety Plan, the effectiveness of the controls put in place, and the ongoing management and maintenance of the safety plan. Typically both worker and employer representatives are involved in remote inspections. Following a remote inspection, the employer may be asked to forward documentation, including a copy of the COVID-19 Safety Plan as well as photos, signage, or videos, to the prevention officer to support the elements discussed during the inspection.
Following both on-site and remote inspections, prevention officers will issue an Inspection Report with orders to employers in cases where improvements to COVID-19 Safety Plans and protocols are required. In cases of continued non-compliance, other enforcement measures, such as citations, will be considered and may be applied as required.
Public health orders: Expedited workplace closures (April 11)
On April 11, 2021, an order of the provincial health officer (PHO) delegated powers of the Public Health Act to WorkSafeBC prevention officers. This means that, effective April 12, 2021, WorkSafeBC prevention officers can serve a closure order on an employer with COVID-19 transmission when directed by a medical health officer. The closure order will be for 10 days or longer.
In the case of complex workplaces (e.g., large construction sites), a closure may be restricted to parts of the workplace where transmission has occurred.
Why are WorkSafeBC prevention officers being given this authority?
WorkSafeBC is supporting public health officials, as required, during a period of rising COVID-19 case numbers. The order states that the recent increase in cases, in combination with the need to implement large-scale vaccination clinics, is challenging public health officials to respond to cases, clusters, and outbreaks of COVID- 19.
What are the powers being delegated to WorkSafeBC?
WorkSafeBC’s role is well defined and narrow in the order. The powers delegated to WorkSafeBC prevention officers are limited to serving closure notices to employers, when directed to do so by a medical health officer. WorkSafeBC has no role in deciding which workplaces will be served with a closure order.
WorkSafeBC can vary an order, but it is limited to permitting individuals to remain at the workplace or to enter the workplace for safety or security reasons, or to implement COVID-19 prevention measures.
This delegation of powers to WorkSafeBC under the PHO order has no expiration date.
What support will WorkSafeBC provide to employers during a closure?
During the closure, WorkSafeBC will be available to provide advice to the employer, if requested. After the workplace has re-opened, WorkSafeBC will conduct a COVID-19 safety inspection to review the employer’s COVID-19 Safety Plan.
Where can I see who has been issued a closure order?
Each health authority posts workplace closures at the links below.
WorkSafeBC occupational health and safety (OHS) consultants work in coordination with prevention officers to reach additional employers and provide consultative services that augment and complement inspectional initiatives. OHS consultants educate employers and workers about what they need to do to develop and monitor effective COVID-19 Safety Plans, answer questions, help employers and workers with their COVID Safety Plan challenges, and refer employers to available resources as needed.
Consultations are conducted by OHS consultants with experience and expertise in particular industries, as well as in-depth knowledge of COVID-19 modes of transmission and guidance from the provincial health officer and the BCCDC. OHS consultants do not have the regulatory authority to issue orders to employers, but they will refer an employer to a prevention officer if warranted. Most consultations are currently done remotely.