Best practices for essential services during the pandemic

Apr 28, 2020

Best practices for essential services during the pandemicWe asked our WSPS employees what tips and guidance they would like to offer employers during these challenging times. This article is part of our “From Our People to Yours” series.

By Kelly Fernandes

Physical distancing is a key action to help reduce the number of people getting sick. However, what if your business is an essential service? What are the best ways to protect your workers? Here are eight best practices to consider for your organization.

1. Practice physical distancing within your facility

This may mean identifying which lines, activities and jobs are key to running and limiting worker interactions by reducing the workforce or slowing down processes. Think of all the areas where workers could interact (i.e. lunchrooms, parking lots, washing facilities, etc.) and provide guidance on how much distance is required. Some workplaces have placed tape on the floor and on lunchroom chairs to denote the safe distancing length of 1.8 meters (6 feet). Consider staggering workers’ movement in and out of the building and staggering breaks.

2. Screen everyone entering the building

Create a safe screening plan using the Ministry of Health’s questions and considerations (PDF). Anyone answering no to all questions would be free to enter the facility. If anyone answers yes to any question, do not allow them to enter. This process would apply to visitors, vendors, delivery personnel and employees.

3. Ensure workers are following Ministry of Health precautions

If a worker has a suspected case of COVID-19, encourage them to contact their health care provider and self-isolate. If a worker has a confirmed case, do not allow them to return to work until they are free of the virus, and encourage any others who worked closely with the infected worker to stay home and self-isolate.

4. Encourage workers who have travelled to self-monitor for 14 days

The Ministry of Health advises that essential services workers who have travelled are able to return to work as long as they do not have symptoms. However, they should identify themselves to the employer so that you can put in place a plan to protect all workers.

5. Limit worker interactions with outside contractors

You will have workers working with a variety of outside contractors such as in shipping and receiving. In addition to screening the contractors, consider ways workers can limit their interactions. Many transportation drivers stay in the cab while delivering. However, if they need to provide shipping documents, consider having an area where drivers can leave the paperwork that maintains a safe distance from shipping and receiving workers. The workers can don gloves to pick up any paperwork and wash their hands once they are done.

6. Increase cleaning activities

High touch surfaces need to be sanitized regularly. Ontario Public Health has provided guidance on cleaning for public settings. Use a disinfectant with a Drug Identification Number (DIN) suitable for killing coronavirus, as recommended by the federal government. Focus on high touch areas such as lunchroom tables and chairs, washrooms, desks, and door handles and/or automatic door openers.

7. Promote hand washing and avoidance of face touching

This is a tough one. We probably never thought about how many times a day we touch our face until we were told to avoid it. Consider providing gloves to workers if this does not interfere with their work, which will help reduce workers touching their face. Encourage everyone to wash their hands before and after eating, taking breaks, using the washroom, and leaving the facility.

8. Practice work from home whenever possible and move meetings online

For parts of your workforce that can work from home and still support the business, move them home. Many platforms such as Skype or Zoom provide online meetings that allow everyone to see each other and collaborate on documents or white boards.

Kelly Fernandes is a Certified Industrial Hygienist with Workplace Safety & Prevention Services.

  • For more sector and job-specific best practices, check out WSPS.ca/COVID19.