As the pandemic evolves, so does the province's response. Lockdowns, public health orders, and inspection blitzes are just some of the initiatives in play against the pandemic. They all share the same goal: keeping Ontarians healthy and safe. But how is a workplace to keep up?
"It's a process like anything else," says Trevor Beauchamp, WSPS' Director, Field Logistics. "You just have to know the rules and implement a strategy."
Which rules apply
"COVID-19 doesn't distinguish between the workplace and the general public," explains Trevor, "so rules affecting workplaces have been issued through several legislative instruments." Here is a quick overview:
- Occupational Health and Safety Act - requires employers to take all precautions reasonable to protect their workers. This includes pandemic precautions. Treat COVID-19 as a workplace hazard just like any other.
- Keeping Ontario Safe and Open Framework - essential reading for workplaces. The framework contains pandemic-related public health and workplace safety measures, including a requirement for many workplaces to have a pandemic safety plan. The framework features five levels, which may be assigned on a regional, community or province-wide basis.
- Health Protection and Promotion Act - in the event of a communicable disease outbreak, the Act allows medical officers of health across the province powers to issue local orders aimed at reducing the risk of transmission, such as closing workplaces or parts of workplaces.
- Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA) - gives the province power to take actions and implement measures the provincial Cabinet considers necessary for responding to an emergency. The province declared a pandemic emergency in March 2020, and again this month, read article Ontario Declares Second Provincial Emergency to Address COVID-19 Crisis and Save Lives.
- Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act - gives the province greater flexibility to extend, amend and revoke orders made under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. The Keeping Ontario Safe and Open Framework was issued under this Act.
Why are there rules from multiple sources rather than just one? Trevor explains it this way: "A grocery store has an obligation to protect its employees under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and an obligation to protect the general public under the Health Protection and Promotion Act. The Keeping Ontario Safe and Open Framework helps these two acts work harmoniously with each other."
5 steps to keep up with new rules
"The best way to protect employees, customers and your business is to be aware of legal requirements and aim higher," says Trevor. "Compliance doesn't guarantee a safe workplace. It's a starting point, not an end point." Here's what Trevor suggests.
- Develop a COVID-19 safety plan if you haven't already done so, and follow it. "The process is straightforward: just follow a safety plan guide and template developed by the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development." WSPS offers sample sector-specific safety plans to help you populate your plan.
- Assign an employee to serve as a pandemic compliance officer responsible for determining what's required now, actively tracking changes, and ensuring your workplace exceeds its obligations. Monitor provincial and local news sources, and bookmark the website of your local public health unit so that your compliance officer can check regularly for new orders.
- Communicate changes in legal requirements and workplace controls to employees, and reinforce everyone's responsibilities under the Internal Responsibility System.
- Look for gaps in your planning, especially as rules evolve, with this operational planning tool.
- Follow the enforcement activities of provincial and local police, bylaw officers and workplace inspectors. The focus of these activities may indicate possible opportunities for improvement in your workplace. Expect the focus to shift as priorities change.
How WSPS can help
Explore WSPS' COVID-19 Hub. It offers essential information and tools to help workplaces and their employees thrive. Resources include: