Should you now be wearing two masks instead of one? Wearing better masks, indoors and out? These are just two suggestions pundits have made in the face of more infectious COVID-19 variants.
Health Canada recommends the use of non-medical masks and face coverings with three layers or more when people can't maintain a 2-metre distance from others,* but this is pre-variant advice. What should your workplace do today?
"Masks and face coverings are workplace essentials, but they're a starting point, not an end point," says Wagish Yajaman, WSPS' Manager, Specialty Services. "They're best used in combination with other source controls."
As for which controls, "Let your risk assessment determine the best combination."
A provincial enforcement campaign that began in November 2020 has identified three common issues:
- employees and/or customers not wearing masks
- not screening people in the workplace
- not having a safety plan for controlling COVID-19 transmission. Under Ontario's COVID-19 response framework, all businesses in lockdown zones and in certain sectors in yellow, orange or red zones must have a safety plan.
These issues highlight opportunities to improve your prevention efforts.
What workplaces can do
Here's what Wagish suggests.
- Assess the risk of coming into contact with potentially infected people. "The level of risk will determine the type of source control or personal protective equipment (PPE) needed," explains Wagish. "The greater the risk, the greater the level of protection required." Revisit your assessment whenever operating conditions change.
- Create and implement a safety plan, and make sure it's working. "Having a safety plan is important, but a safety plan that works is critical. Evaluate to see if it's working, and change whatever needs to be changed - plan, do, check, act."
- If masks are required, choose the right ones. Wear them correctly and consistently, in tandem with other controls, including physical distancing.
- Engage all workplace parties. "Safety has never been 'somebody else's job.' There's a role for everyone in the workplace," says Wagish.
- Ensure health and safety remains a top priority, especially in the face of staff shortages due to illness or high demand for products and services. "Take the long view. Keeping employees safe even in the most difficult circumstances sustains productivity and minimizes the risk of business disruption."
- Stay informed. Monitor provincial and local news sources, including your local public health unit, for updates in workplace requirements.
How WSPS can help
Explore WSPS' COVID-19 Hub. It offers essential information and tools to help workplaces and their employees control exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Here's some of the resources you'll find:
- New COVID-19 Response Framework: How to create your safety plan
- Boost your pandemic controls with this tool
- Prevent COVID at Work app for workers, download on the Apple Store and on Google Play
- Reducing close contacts to avoid transmission of COVID-19
- Filtering Face Pieces, Masks, and Fabric Face Coverings: Facts
- How to safely use, handle and dispose of face coverings