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Employers and employees have a responsibility to implement and follow the necessary precautions to limit the risk of COVID-19 spread in businesses and workplaces. Measures like, having all employees self screen prior to coming to work, requiring employees to stay home when they are sick, reducing exposure through alternate work arrangements, or using virtual methods of communication can be most effective. Installing physical barriers and implementing proper cleaning and disinfection strategies at logical intervals are also key steps in reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection or spread. Practicing physical distancing, proper infection control practices (e.g., like hand washing and sanitizing), as well as promoting cough and sneeze etiquette are also key strategies to reduce the spread of infections. Wearing personal protective equipment is required mostly in situations when the other solutions (e.g., physical distancing) are not possible or practical. However, recent recommendations suggest that individuals should wear properly made and fitted cloth masks to help prevent them from potentially spreading their germs to others, when more effective strategies like eliminating exposure or physical distancing can not be achieved.

Consider Options for Working Differently

Depending on the nature of the business or workplace, there may be alternative options to implement flexible work arrangements such as:

  • Permitting remote work from home or flexible hours.
  • Staggering start times, breaks, lunches, or shifts to limit the number of people in the work space at any given time.
  • Using telephone, virtual meetings, or other internet-based platforms to conduct business and meetings, including appointments.
  • Holding meetings (when absolutely necessary) in large indoor spaces or large meeting rooms to ensure physical distancing. If no large indoor spaces are available, holding meetings outside may also be an option if there is a safe space and weather permits.

For employees that are unable to work remotely from home, they should be encouraged to complete the COVID-19 Self-Assessment prior to reporting for work and instructed to stay at home when feeling sick.

Modify Customer Interactions

For businesses or workplace that regularly interact with clients or customers, it is important that employers take the necessary steps to modify customer interactions to limit the risk of spread of COVID-19 between employees and customers. Employers should consider implementing cashless and no-touch transactions as well as physical barriers such as Plexiglas dividers or roped off areas to create separation between employees and customers to limit physical interactions. Other strategies such as drive through or curbside pick-up should be initiated or continued as well.

Environmental Cleaning & Disinfectant Procedures

Commonly used cleaners and disinfectants are part of a broad approach to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The use of disinfectants with a Drug Identification Number (DIN) is recommended to limit the spread of COVID-19. A DIN is an 8-digit number located on the package or bottle of disinfectant and this indicates that it has been approved for use by Health Canada. Health Canada has created list of approved hand sanitizers and disinfectants that prevent the spread of COVID-19.

According to Public Health Ontario’s Cleaning and Disinfection for Public Settings, frequently touched surfaces are more likely to be contaminated and it is therefore important to ensure thorough cleaning at least twice a day or when visibly dirty. Each workplace should determine their high touch areas, but here are some of the more common high-touch surfaces to consider as a starting point:

  • Handles/door knobs
  • Railings/grab bars
  • Desk tops
  • Telephones/cell phones
  • Taps
  • Toilet handles
  • Kitchen appliances and surfaces
  • Water fountains
  • Hand sanitizer dispensers
  • Computers keyboards and mouse
  • Light switches
  • Cash registers
  • Touchpad surfaces
  • Elevator buttons

Wherever possible, use a pre-mixed solution of cleaner and disinfectant. Ensure that you check the expiry date when using any cleaning or disinfectant products or mixtures and:

  • Wear gloves and any other personal protective equipment (PPE) as recommended by the manufacturer
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for preparing the solution and allow adequate contact time for disinfectant to kill germs
  • Refer to your workplace for additional specific protocols for the cleaning and disinfection of other surfaces, areas, or materials related to COVID-19.

Promoting Proper Hand Hygiene Practices and Cough and Sneeze Etiquette

Businesses and workplaces must promote and support proper hand hygiene as well as cough and sneeze etiquette to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by:

  • Ensuring there are enough supplies available for proper hand hygiene, including pump soap, warm running water and paper towels or hot air dryers.
  • Reminding employees and customers to practice cough and sneeze etiquette by covering their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and to place the tissue directly into the garbage. If a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into the upper sleeve or elbow and avoid sneezing directly into hands.
  • Following a sneeze or a cough, it is important to wash hands with soap and water for at least 15-20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizer should be used.
  • Including alcohol-based hand sanitizer stations at prominent locations throughout the workplace to supplement hand washing. Portable hand sanitizer bottles should also be provided to workers at their work stations if they interact directly with customers. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers should contain at least 60% alcohol.
  • Requiring workers should conduct hand hygiene between every interaction with customers.
  • Encouraging customers to sanitize hands upon entry and exit of the workplace and limit handling of products to just those they need.
  • Posting signage to remind employees and customers about the importance of properly washing or sanitizing your hands at appropriate intervals.

Maintaining Physical Distance

Physical distancing is an effective measure to minimize the risk of person-to-person transmission of COVID-19. To ensure physical distancing, the Ministry of Health recommends that employers consider:

  • Marking out a distance of 2 metres between seats and seating areas to ensure physical distancing in shared spaces and lines (i.e., reception areas, meeting rooms, waiting rooms, grocery lines, kitchenettes, elevators, offices and other work spaces).
  • Admitting fewer customers or limiting the number of clients visiting a business or workplace at a given time.
  • Dedicating specific hours to high-risk populations, including those over 70 and with disabilities.
  • Encouraging the use of self-scanning technologies at check outs.
  • Encouraging customers to pack their own purchases, whenever possible, and discouraging the use of multi-use bags.
  • Requiring passengers to sit in the rear seat of a vehicle and open the windows, weather permitting, in taxis and rideshares.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

In situations where the strategies above are not practical or possible, businesses may consider the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). The Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Guidance: Essential Workplaces provides some tips for optimizing the use of PPE.

  • In most situations, workers don't need to wear personal protective equipment to protect themselves against COVID-19. The pandemic doesn't change existing requirements that may apply to certain workplaces or professions.
  • Non-medical face coverings are strongly recommended for both employees and customers when physical distancing is difficult to maintain. The Ontario Government has created a poster providing further instructions on how to safely wear a face covering when physical distancing is a challenge.
  • In general, medical PPE should be preserved for Health Care Workers, First Responders, and other employees who require this equipment to do their job safely. If work involves direct contact with individuals confirmed or suspected to be infected with COVID-19, or direct contact with COVID-19 contaminated objects or environments, Public Health Ontario recommends that the appropriate personal protective equipment must be used. This requires gloves, gown, surgical/procedure mask, and face shield or goggles. For protection against COVID-19, N95 respirators are only required for aerosol generating medical procedures and when otherwise determined by a regulated health professional.
  • If personal protective equipment is provided by the employer, employees must be trained on safe use, care, and limitations, including putting on and taking off equipment and proper disposal.
  • To support workers who require PPE and the economic recovery of the province, the government has launched a website to provide businesses with information on personal protective equipment (PPE) suppliers. The Workplace PPE Supplier Directory has an up-to-date list of Ontario companies and business associations that are ready to supply personal protective equipment to keep your employees and customers safe from COVID-19. An alternative option is to acquire a supply of cloth masks, by having them made or by purchasing from a local supplier.

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Last modified: 
Friday, June 12, 2020 - 10:23am