The province's recently released Roadmap to Reopen comes as good news, particularly for businesses that have remained closed throughout the pandemic. The three-step plan is based on the province-wide vaccination rate and key public health and health care indicators.
But exhilaration at the prospect of re-opening is tempered by the reality that COVID-19 is an ongoing health issue. While essential businesses have had time to put systems in place to protect their workers and customers, other businesses may be starting from scratch. How can your business catch up?
"Put together a re-opening strategy team with the help of your joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative," says Stephen Shaw, WSPS' Director of Integrated Operations. "The strategy team will help you ensure safe and healthy working conditions for returning workers."
Here are six questions to ask when developing your strategy.
- Does my workplace have a COVID-19 safety plan in place? If not, this is your first priority, says Stephen. "Find out what's legally required of you from the provincial government and your local public health unit."
Conduct a COVID-19 hazard risk assessment and implement a variety of control measures, such as physical distancing, masks, cleaning/disinfecting, employee and visitor screening, and other measures.
"Since requirements are continuously changing," says Stephen, "be ready to be flexible and to adapt your plan. And keep your ear to the ground." (See 5 steps to keep up with evolving COVID-19 requirements)
When building your plan, also think about what your employees are expecting of you.
- How do we prepare the workplace? Deep clean the workplace before employees return, and develop a cleaning schedule. Make sure engineering controls such as proper ventilation meet current guidelines and reconfigure the layout to ensure that employees are at least two metres apart by adjusting furniture and workstations, installing barriers, and incorporating traffic flow signage or footprints.
- How do we prepare employees for the return? Disseminate accurate information about the virus and what you are doing to protect employees through email, bulletin boards, company Intranet, safety talks, etc. Before employees return to the workplace, deliver virtual re-orientation training that focuses on your COVID-19 safety plan and protocols like hand washing, physically distancing, self-screening, using the lunchroom, etc. "Don't forget general health and safety," says Stephen. "For example, ask yourself, 'When was the last time we did refresher training on WHMIS?'"
- How do we respond to employees who are anxious about returning to work? "First, acknowledge their concerns. Reassure them you're doing everything reasonable to protect them and outline what that is. Second, encourage employees to get the vaccine to better protect themselves. Direct employees to the most accurate, up-to-date information available. Create a campaign around the benefits of the vaccine."
- Are new policies and practices required? You will need to develop policies around employee and visitor screening, and who will carry that out. For instance, if you plan to use rapid on-site testing to identify asymptomatic employees, you'll need a policy around that. (See "Could on-site COVID testing be an option for your workplace?")
- Should we bring all employees back at once? A staggered approach is better, says Stephen. "If you have an office of 300 people, and you start by bringing 20 or so people in a day, you can better determine how well your new COVID-related policies and procedures are working."
How WSPS can help
These resources and many more are available on our COVID-19 Hub:
- Post Pandemic Business Resumption Checklist
- Understanding COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plans
- Sector-Specific Health & Safety Guidance for COVID-19
- WSPS Legislative Tracker
- 10 tips for re-orienting workers as businesses re-open
- Worry About Returning to the Workplace
- Vaccine Considerations in the Workplace