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Why workplace screening is more essential than ever

Why workplace screening is more essential than ever

Increasing vaccination uptake and declining infection rates are bringing us closer to enjoying a life free of COVID-19 restrictions. These changes are worth celebrating because they've been achieved only through individual, corporate and institutional efforts.

"But what may be getting lost in all the good news," says Priya Sookdeo, WSPS' OHS Management Systems Lead, "is that we still have to avoid complacency and continue complying with measures to prevent transmission, such as screening workers and customers. There are highly contagious variants in Ontario and many people have yet to be fully vaccinated."

This means your employees, customers and even your business remain at risk.

The best way to prevent COVID-19 from entering your business is to screen employees and visitors. You’ll find below the latest information from public health officials, including new guidelines for screening vaccinated individuals, and tools that can help. The Ministry of Health has released Employers Managing Employees with Symptoms within 48 Hours of COVID-19 Immunization, which provides information on screening in the few days following vaccination and specific requirements for workers experiencing symptoms.

Screening is a critical part of your COVID-19 safety plan, along with physical distancing, disinfecting, wearing personal protective equipment, and other control measures. "They work together to keep the virus in check," notes Priya.

Why we screen people

Screening helps identify workers, customers, and visitors who are infected and could spread the virus, especially those showing no symptoms of infection. Even vaccinated people should be screened since they may be carriers.

There are two main types of screening:

  • passive screening, such as posting signs with questions at entrances, encourages people to self-identify if they have any symptoms or risks. In passive screening the individual is responsible for excluding themselves from entering a place such as a business
  • active screening involves asking individuals specific questions related to COVID-19 and possibly taking their temperature. In this case the screener advises the individual whether they can proceed with entry.

Rapid antigen testing is also being used in many workplaces across Canada as part of the active screening process to protect workers. While these tests are not as sensitive as laboratory tests, they can be useful in detecting people infected with COVID-19, including those who are asymptomatic. Rapid testing can be used following the initial screening procedures and are only one piece of a broader strategy to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Refer to Ministry of Health considerations for rapid antigen point-of-care screening.

Screening customers

Many small businesses, such as retail, take-out, pharmacies and libraries, rely on passive screening. Posted questions focus on symptoms, contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID, and more.

A single 'Yes' answer would bar the person from entering your workplace. This does not apply to people experiencing mild side effects from having been vaccinated in the previous 48 hours. Mild side effects may include mild headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and/or joint pain. These people may enter the workplace but must wear a surgical mask the entire time and follow all health and safety controls and protocols in place.

Don’t assume passive screening is okay for all types of customer-based businesses. Under Step 3 of Ontario's  Roadmap to Reopen, certain businesses are to actively screen visitors or patrons; for example, restaurants and bars must actively screen dine-in patrons before they enter, record the patrons' names and contact information, and maintain these records for one month. (Check screening requirements for businesses opening during Phase 3)

Screening employees and visitors

Workers, suppliers, contractors and visitors - including those who have been fully or partially vaccinated - must be actively screened before entering the workplace. A worker screening tool developed by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health can be used to develop a screening process.

Those who fail a screening should be sent home or asked to stay home to self-isolate, and encouraged to talk to their health care provider or local public health unit for guidance. Make sure your screener is trained on how to relay this information safely.

Screening resources


The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.