With the August 3, 2021 announcement of further changes to Public Health Orders, we are moving closer to a “Post-Pandemic” Manitoba. Under these new Orders, which will come into force on August 7, 2021, remote work is no longer required or even necessarily recommended by public health and workplaces are encouraged to transition from COVID-19 safety plans to a general Communicable Disease Prevention Plan. Such a plan should focus on basic risk reduction principles to reduce the risk of workplace transmission of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.
What is communicable disease prevention?
A communicable disease is any illness that starts from an infectious agent and can be transmitted among people. Therefore, communicable disease prevention requires employers to assess the risks for communicable disease transmission that may present themselves in the workplace, create a plan that incorporates the appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the disease, and communicate these measures to their employees. As noted by Public Health, such a plan should consider not only COVID-19, but other respiratory illnesses, for example, the flu or Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).
Note that requirements for plans such as this are not new. The workplace requirements for communicable disease prevention are based more generally on the duties of employers, workers and others that can be found in the Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSHA). Under WSHA, employers must ensure the health and safety of their workers, to the extent reasonably practicable. This legal obligation has always included taking basic steps to reduce the risk to workers from communicable diseases and implementing appropriate measures to prevent transmission in times of elevated risk. We are simply now being reminded of the importance of such an obligation in the face of COVID-19.
Communicable disease prevention requires ongoing follow-up and assessment, as measures may need to change or adapt when necessary, subject to Public Health advice or the specific communicable disease in question.
General measures to consider
Many measures that were likely implemented as a result of COVID-19 should be implemented in your workplace Communicable Disease Plan. Such measures include:
- Sick leave policies – workers should be supported in such a way to ensure that they do not have to attend work if they are sick with a communicable disease;
- Hand-hygiene – hand hygiene facilities and/or sanitizer should be available to all workers, and reminders of hand hygiene should be encouraged;
- Cleaning protocols – the workplace must be cleaned regularly, particularly any shared spaces, such as boardrooms, lunch rooms, public areas etc., and cleaning supplies made available for employees to clean high touch surfaces;
- Personal Protective Equipment – risk assessments should consider any jobs or tasks where continued PPE (such as continued masking or use of partitions) may still be required on an ongoing basis, or only in specific instances of an outbreak of a communicable disease amongst employees;
- Encouraging Vaccines – employers should consider what steps they can take to encourage and support worker vaccination (where vaccines are available and effective), being mindful of the human rights considerations arising for those unable to do so.
- Ventilation – the workplace should have ventilation that is operating correctly and effectively, and ensure it is regularly maintained; and
- Actively Monitoring Public Health Guidance – employers should actively monitor and review the guidance from Manitoba Public Health and the Public Health Agency of Canada, and consider implementing any recommended measures to the extent possible.
There may be other items that should be included in your workplace’s plan, depending on the nature of the workplace, the nature of the tasks to be performed, and the risks that may be posed to and/or by clients or customers present in the workplace.
The fact that we may now be getting close to a post-pandemic Manitoba is no doubt a much awaited time. However, ensuring that our return is done with workplace safety in mind is something that will be key to a successful, healthy return. If you require assistance as you develop your Communicable Disease Prevention Plan, please do not hesitate to reach out to anyone in our Labour and Employment Practice Law Group.
Jamie Jurczak is a member of the Labour and Employment Law Practice Group at the Winnipeg law firm, Taylor McCaffrey LLP. Her practice has a special focus on occupational health and safety (OHS) matters. Alongside her OHS work, Jamie’s practice incorporates all aspects of labour and employment law to help clients and businesses navigate complex personnel matters, and workplace conflicts and disputes. She is recognized by CanadianLexpert® Directory as a leading lawyer in Occupational Health and Safety (since 2014) and in Human Rights (since 2018).
Taylor McCaffrey LLP is the exclusive Manitoba member of the Employment Law Alliance, the world’s largest network of labour and employment lawyers.
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