Ontario, Canada: New and Updated Guidance for Businesses Required to Have a Written COVID-19 Safety Plan

In its January 2021 newsletter, What’s New, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development provides new and updated guidance for businesses that are required to have a written safety plan, including all businesses operating during a lockdown or shutdown.  The new and updated guidance includes:

  • A safety plan guide update;
  • Updated construction sector guidance;
  • New guidance on meal and break periods;
  • New guidance on self-isolation and return to work;
  • New workplace screening tools, both for workers and customers; and
  • New workplace posters:
    • Break poster;
    • Lunch poster; and
    • “Keep it to yourself” poster.

Safety plan guide update

In November 2020, Ontario updated its new COVID-19 Response Framework, Keeping Ontario Safe and Open (New Framework).  At that time, it required certain businesses to prepare a safety plan, make it available, and post it in a conspicuous place.  The plan was required to describe: (a) measures and procedures implemented to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission; and (b) how the measures will be implemented (screening, physical distancing, masks or face coverings, cleaning and disinfection of surfaces and objects, and wearing PPE). 

Ontario has now updated its guidance, available here, for businesses that are required to create safety plans, including those operating during a lockdown or shutdown.  The updated guidance:

  • Lists key resources for information;
  • Provides information to enable businesses to understand the risks related to how COVID-19 spreads;
  • Provides information regarding measures that should be implemented to control potential exposure to COVID-19; and
  • Provides information regarding how to think through the six questions that businesses must consider as they develop the plan.

Updated construction sector guidance

Ontario also provides guidance, available here, for the development of safety plans specific to the construction sector, such as recommendations for:

  • Understanding the risk;
  • Safety measures to control potential exposure;
  • Providing information and training;
  • Controlling the risk of transmission;
  • Screening;
  • Physical distancing (including tips to help ensure it);
  • Masks and personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • Workplace sanitation and hygiene;
  • Ventilation and air flow;
  • Managing a potential case; and
  • Providing notice that a worker has tested positive. 

New guidance on meal and break periods

Noting that there is some evidence that transmission of COVID-19 may occur during meal and break periods when masks are removed to eat and drink, Ontario provides guidance, available here, for how employers, supervisors, and workers can satisfy their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to help keep their workplace safe during meal and break times. 

New guidance on self-isolation and return to work

Ontario provides guidance, available here, to help employers in non-health care workplaces understand what to expect for workers in terms of self-isolation because they:

  • Have been potentially exposed to COVID-19 (they were out of the country, or in close contact with someone with COVID-19 or who is likely to have COVID-19);
  • Have COVID-19; or
  • Have been tested because they have symptoms of COVID-19.

New workplace screening tools

Ontario provides online screening tools for workers/employees (available here), and customers (available here).  The tools indicate that workers and employees must screen before going to work each day, and customers may be asked to screen before entering a business or a public space; however, it also states that use of these specific screening tools to answer the questions is optional and is not tracked or enforced.  Furthermore, the screening tools are not applicable to health care settings (including long-term care homes), and some non-health care workplaces (e.g., retirement homes, other congregate living settings, schools and child care) where existing screening requirements and tools are already in place.

New workplace posters

Finally, Ontario provides three workplace posters reminding workers/employees that COVID safety should be practiced during breaks and lunch, and that, among other things, cups, cigarettes, utensils, lunches and drinks should be kept to oneself

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.