Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
On April 30, 2020, in anticipation of the gradual reopening of its economy, Ontario announced that it had released safety guidelines to enable employers to protect workers, customers, and the general public. The guidelines provide direction to workers in the manufacturing, food manufacturing and processing, restaurant and food service, and agricultural sectors. They build on more than 60 guidelines developed by four health and safety associations in response to COVID-19 for various sectors (e.g., retail, health care, construction, transportation, police services, firefighters, and transit employees).
The sector-specific guidelines recommend actions employers can start planning for as they prepare to adapt to “the new reality during COVID-19,” including the following:
- Taking measures to ensure appropriate physical distancing (e.g., eliminating pay-at-the-door options, holding team meetings outdoors, staggering shift times, and managing traffic flow with ground markings and barriers);
- Making changes to the workplace (e.g., installing Plexiglas barriers, increasing the air intake on building heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to increase air flow, and using boot sanitizing trays);
- Promoting proper workplace sanitation;
- Providing personal protective equipment;
- Substituting dry dusting with vacuuming;
- Ensuring customer-facing staff are given hand sanitizer;
- Providing a place to dispose of sanitizing wipes; and
- Enforcing handwashing before and after breaks.
Numerous recommendations are provided for each listed topic.
Each sector’s guidelines are organized in a similar fashion, with tips to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 that generally include recommended practices on the following topics:
- Protecting yourself and your co-workers;
- Reporting illness;
- Getting information on infection prevention and control;
- Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development reporting requirements;
- Sharing information;
- Workers with COVID-19;
- Posting policies;
- Physical distancing;
- On-site sanitation;
- Adjusting on-site and production schedules; and
- Tracking and monitoring the workforce.
Additional recommendations are made for some of the sectors.
The government has also issued posters for each of the sectors. The posters provide advice to both employers and workers regarding how to keep workers safe; prevention tips include recommendations relating to physical distancing and workplace sanitation. Employers may obtain the posters on the Ontario government’s website, and they are encouraged to print them and then post them in their workplaces.
Additional workplace safety guidelines
The government indicated that it intends to release additional safety guidelines for more sectors in the coming days and weeks.
Finally, the government announced that beginning last week, 58 new health and safety inspectors have joined the hundreds of inspectors who are already employed by the Ministry of Labour. They will be communicating COVID-19 safety guidelines to essential workplaces and enforcing emergency measures, including physical distancing and the closure of non-essential businesses.
Bottom Line for Employers
As Ontario prepares to gradually reopen its economy, employers in the sectors to which the safety guidelines apply are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the recommended practices. Although the guidelines do not have the force of law, inspectors will be referring to them when they conduct inspections and expecting compliance.