General Occupational Health Advisory (COVID-19)
From: Health Canada
Updated: 10 July 2020
Public Service Occupational Health Program (PSOHP)
Please note that this advice may change as more information becomes available.
On this page
- Novel coronavirus
- General advice for all employees
- Front line service delivery
- Contact information
- Additional sources of information
To provide federal employees with current occupational health advice in relation to the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which causes the disease known as COVID-19. Annexes have been developed for specific workplaces (e.g., Points of Entry and Missions Abroad) to provide additional occupational health advice specific to their work environments.
Please refer to the PSOHP Occupational Health Tool Kit which contains guidance for occupational health and safety (OHS) advisors, managers, and employees related to the easing of public health restrictions and the gradual return of some employees to worksites.
Note that in the Occupational Health Tool Kit and in this Advisory, there is a hierarchy of controls that is required, starting with personal preventive measures and modifying the workplace to allow for physical distancing. Depending on the specific work situation, non-medical masks/cloth face coverings and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) are the last lines of defence when all other measures are not practical, inadequate or exhausted.
Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. The disease caused by this novel coronavirus has been given the name "COVID-19."
Some facts about the novel coronavirus:
- Coronaviruses are commonly spread from an infected person, even one with only mild symptoms, through respiratory droplets that are generated when they cough or sneeze. Laughing, singing or talking enthusiastically may also generate respiratory droplets. Transmission can happen when these droplets land directly on the eyes, nose or mouth of another person or if another person touches something with the virus on it, then touches their own mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands.
- Some people may also be infected with and transmit the virus even though they do not show any symptoms.
- COVID-19 symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure to the virus. Please refer to the COVID-19 website at Canada.ca/coronavirus for the most up-to-date information on symptoms and treatment. There is an increased risk of more severe outcomes for Canadians who are aged 65 and over, have compromised immune systems and/or underlying medical conditions.
General advice for all employees
In this section
Most federal employees are at no higher risk of developing COVID-19 relative to the general public. The majority of new cases of COVID-19 in Canada develop after exposure in the community. This includes exposure in the workplace from co-workers or clients.
Employees must follow local public health advice and follow personal public health practices such as hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and physical distancing whenever possible including when outside the workplace to help prevent the introduction of COVID-19 in their workplace. These hygiene practices (hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette) and physical distancing remain the most important measures for employees to adopt in the workplace and elsewhere.
- Monitor yourself for symptoms such as new or worsening cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, temperature equal to or over 38°C, feeling feverish, chills, fatigue or weakness, muscle or body aches, new loss of smell or taste, headache, gastrointestinal symptoms (abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting), or feeling very unwell. You can self assess for symptoms at: ca.thrive.health/covid19/en.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick (especially if they have a fever, and respiratory illness).
- Stay home and away from others if you become sick to avoid spreading illness to other people. Follow local public health advice at all times.
- When ill, employees should keep their supervisor informed about their condition and follow local public health advice regarding their return to work requirements if any.
- Ensure healthy practices to maintain optimal physical and psychological health.
- For psychosocial support for federal employees and their families, contact your department or agency's Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
- Consistently use good hand hygiene measures. This includes frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. Please refer to the list of hand sanitizers approved for sale in Canada. Wash your hands regularly and before handling, preparing, serving or eating food, or after coughing, sneezing or using the bathroom.
- Protect your hands from touching potentially contaminated surfaces as you leave the bathroom. For example, use a paper towel to open the door. For more tips on effective hand washing, refer to Reduce the Spread of COVID-19 - Wash your hands.
- If hands are visibly soiled, use of soap and water is recommended. If not available, soiling should be removed with a moistened towelette first, followed by use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Perform respiratory etiquette (cough or sneeze into the bend of your arm or into a tissue) at all times. If you use a tissue, remember to dispose of it in a lined wastebasket as soon as possible and wash your hands afterwards or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
- Physical distancing of two metres from others should be maintained in the workplace whenever possible, including distancing from co-workers during breaks and meals.
- In some workplaces, it is difficult to consistently maintain a two-metre distance between colleagues as well as clients. In these cases, employees should discuss with their managers to determine the appropriate steps to take to ensure their health and safety. The annexes for specific workplaces (e.g., Points of Entry and Missions Abroad) provide occupational health advice specific to these work environments. Please refer to Other measures: Non-medical masks and cloth face coverings
All employees should follow the measures recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada for Preventing COVID-19 in the Workplace: Employers, Employees and Essential service workers.
Advice for all managers
- Delegated managers are encouraged to engage their departmental occupational health and safety committees. They should also keep their COVID-19 Business Continuity Plans updated.
- Managers are encouraged to consider alternative work arrangements such as teleworking and if there is a requirement to be in the workplace to put in place a staggered work schedule.
- Managers should remind employees of the importance of personal public health practices such as hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, not touching the face with unwashed hands, staying home when sick and maintaining a physical distance of two metres from others.
- When in the workplace, employees should maintain physical distancing whenever possible. Managers should put in place measures to ensure that physical distancing is maintained in lunch and break rooms and other areas of the workplace (e.g., stagger employees' breaks). Other protocols may be required where physical distancing is difficult to maintain (e.g., in vehicles).
- Managers, in consultation with their occupational health and safety committees must also review the work environment to determine if engineering controls such as physical barriers can be put in place, or work processes can be modified, to ensure physical distancing of two metres from others. For instance, use of physical barriers such as transparent barriers, or other methods such as change of workflow, and taped floor spacing in public or work environments are important and effective means of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
- When determining use of NMMs and/or cloth face coverings in the workplace, managers, in consultation with their occupational health and safety policy committees must also consider carefully the occupational requirements of their employees and specific workplace configuration.
- Recognizing the challenges in maintaining a two-metre distance at all times, departments will provide NMMs and/or cloth face coverings and instructions about their appropriate use and disposal.
- Managers should mitigate against any possible physical and psychological injuries to employees and/or clients that might inadvertently be caused by wearing a NMM and/or cloth face covering, for example:
- Physical injury - interfering with the ability to see or speak clearly or becoming accidentally lodged in equipment the wearer is operating.
- Psychological injury - offensive or inappropriate images or text on a cloth face covering.
Managers should follow the measures recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada for Preventing COVID-19 in the workplace: Employers, Employees and Essential Service Workers.
Monitoring for symptoms at work
- Should an employee have or develop a symptom of COVID-19 such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing while in the workplace, the manager should send the employee home (avoiding the use of public transportation), and the employee should immediately call a health care professional or local public health authority and follow their advice. The employee should describe their symptoms and any travel or community/workplace exposures. Public health authorities will provide advice to the employee regarding follow up actions and instructions regarding the exposure risk to others. In emergency situations, call 911.
- Until the employee can leave the workplace, they should adhere to respiratory etiquette and isolate in a separate room. The employee should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue and maintain a physical distance of two metres from others (if a non-medical mask or cloth face covering is available, it may be offered).
- Anyone interacting with the employee should maintain physical distancing of two metres away from the sick person and practice rigorous hand hygiene
- At all times, the privacy of the employee must be respected.
- Consult your departmental occupational health and safety team for advice on cleaning the symptomatic employee's workspace and common areas used by the employee.
- Consider providing alcohol-based hand sanitizer (containing a minimum of 60% alcohol) to employees (wall dispensers or bottles) and ensure that they are replaced when empty. Please refer to the list of hand sanitizers approved for sale in Canada.
- Consider providing cleaning and disinfectant products such as wipes that employees can use for their workstation, telephones, computer keyboards, etc.
- Use appropriate products to clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces such as elevator buttons, door handles, kitchen appliances, bathroom fixtures, water fountain knobs and push buttons, etc. Please refer to Health Canada's list of hard surface disinfectants. Frequently-touched electronics such as phones and other devices may be disinfected with 70% alcohol (e.g., alcohol wipes), if they can withstand the use of liquids for disinfection.
- Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) is working with service providers and custodial departments to ensure proper cleaning and disinfection protocols are in place.
- Please refer to Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces (COVID-19) for further information.
- Avoid non-essential business travel, including conference attendance, until travel recommendations change, with mandatory quarantine requirements for those who do travel. Ensure employees follow any mandatory quarantine requirements after travel.
- Travel to Canada is also currently being restricted for all foreign nationals coming from any country. As of March 25, 2020, all returning travelers are required to quarantine (self-isolate) for 14 days upon return from any destination outside Canada. Some provinces and territories may have additional specific recommendations.
Major events and large gatherings
- As long as physical distancing protocols are followed by employees and visitors, the workplace is not considered a gathering (including meeting rooms, waiting areas or boardrooms).
- Departments should review any events (domestic or international) and consider other options (cancel/postpone) as appropriate. Use judgment to assess the benefits and risks of any event. Refer to the following notice which advises travellers to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada: Pandemic COVID-19 all countries. Some provincial and territorial jurisdictions have imposed restrictions on inter-provincial/territorial travel.
- Please refer to Guidance on gatherings in the workplace and the COVID-19 site for Government of Canada employees for further information and considerations.
Personal protective equipment
When all other measures relating to physical distancing and physical barriers are exhausted, impractical or not feasible, personal protective equipment (PPE) is the last line of defence. PPE, such as gloves and medical masks (e.g., surgical typically used by health care workers and other medical first responders) should be used on the basis of risk exposure and in compliance with public health and occupational health and safety guidance for COVID-19. Please note that NMMs and cloth face coverings are not PPE. They are an additional measure that people can take to protect others around them. Recommendations for use of PPE are based on risk assessments of specific environments and risk of exposure.
There may be some non-health care work settings for which medical masks may be more appropriate than non-medical masks or cloth face coverings. Masks may not be suitable for all types of occupations. Employers must consult with their occupational health and safety policy committees and consider the local context for COVID-19 before introducing mask-wearing policies to the workplace.
PPE guidance has been developed for specific workplaces (e.g., Points of Entry and Missions Abroad). The department, with the participation of the occupational health and safety policy committee, shall establish a program for the provision of PPE, based on guidance developed by the PSOHP. Training on the appropriate use of PPE and the sequence for putting it on (donning) and taking it off (doffing) should be provided to employees, as all PPE must be used correctly to prevent contamination. Hand washing remains critical when using PPE.
Gloves are not recommended when handling documents or providing routine services. The improper use of gloves can provide a false sense of security and increase the risk of infection. Hand hygiene is the most effective way to prevent infection; regular hand washing and not touching the eyes, nose and mouth is recommended at all times. There are some positions within the federal public service that require employees to wear gloves. It is important for employees to discuss with their managers to determine the occupational health and safety requirements for each position.
The use of medical masks by individuals without symptoms such as coughing or sneezing is not recommended by PSOHP. The overuse or inappropriate use of PPE can lead to challenges with PPE availability.
Outside of the health care context, PPE should only be used as per the department's PPE program, based on a risk assessment that considers both the risk associated with a specific task/activity and the characteristics of the source of the infection (e.g., a sick person or a contaminated environment). For example, gloves are recommended when employees will be in direct contact with an ill person, or a contaminated object or environment. Other PPE may be recommended based on the results of a risk assessment. Employees are encouraged to discuss their questions about PPE with their manager.
The use of respirators (e.g., N95 respirators) is not recommended except for health care providers in certain circumstances and some employees who perform tasks (unrelated to COVID-19) for which respirators are required. There may be other hazardous exposures in a work environment unrelated to COVID-19, such as chemical exposures that require PPE. Please follow existing departmental occupational health and safety guidance and procedures in those cases.
Managers are encouraged to engage their departmental occupational health and safety policy committee with any questions regarding PPE.
Other measures: Non-medical masks and cloth face coverings
When all other measures relating to physical distancing and physical barriers are exhausted, impractical or not feasible, non-medical masks (NMMs) and/or cloth face coverings are an additional measure that can be used to protect others around them. They are to be worn when physical distancing is not possible or is unpredictable.
- Recognizing the challenges in maintaining a two-metre distance at all times, departments will provide NMMs and/or cloth face coverings and instructions about their appropriate use and disposal.
- NMMs and/or cloth face coverings alone will not prevent the spread of COVID-19. Continue practicing the behaviours that are effective in preventing the transmission of COVID-19 such as frequent hand washing, staying home when sick, covering coughs and sneezes and physical distancing whenever possible.
- NMMs and/or cloth face coverings are not personal protective equipment (PPE), as they protect others and not the wearer.
- Local public health advice regarding the wearing of non-medical masks or cloth face coverings may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction based on the local epidemiology.
- Benefits of use are greatest when the risk of viral transmission is higher (e.g., local community transmission, busy public settings where you may not be able to control your contacts with others). Benefits are marginal when risk of viral transmission is lower (e.g., limited community transmission, private or work settings where you are able to control physical distancing and limit your contact with others).
- NMMs and/or cloth face coverings should not be placed on anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance, or young children under 2 years of age.
- It is important that NMMs and/or cloth face coverings fit well, are worn safely, and disposed of correctly.
- Be sure to read the guidance on how to remove an NMM and/or cloth face covering (or watch this video) as well as cleaning and disposing of them. If you plan to reuse an NMM or cloth face covering, ensure to temporarily place it in a clean paper bag or envelope between uses during the same work day and until able to have it machine washed in hot water. NMMs that cannot be washed should be discarded and replaced as soon as they get damp, soiled or crumpled. Dispose of masks in a plastic lined garbage bin and do not leave discarded masks elsewhere in the workplace or fleet vehicles.
Frontline service delivery
For federal workplaces that offer non-health care client services in person in Canada
Clients should be screened for symptoms or exposure to COVID-19 prior to entering the workplace, through passive screening (signage) and active screening (asking questions).
Signage can be placed at the entrances stipulating that clients return home (avoiding public transportation) if they have symptoms such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing, have had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the past 14 days or have been instructed by local public health authorities to self-isolate/isolate. They should follow local public health advice on how to handle their particular circumstances. Clients can also contact the department for guidance on how to obtain the required service (e.g., online, by phone).
This refers to asking people directly if they have symptoms such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing, have had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the past 14 days, or have been instructed by local public health authorities to self-isolate due to travel or contact history. If they answer "yes" to any one of these three questions, ask them to return home (avoiding public transportation), and follow local public health advice. Clients can contact the department for guidance on how to obtain the required service including alternate delivery models (e.g., online, by phone).
- Until the person exits the workplace, they should be asked to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue and maintain a physical distance of 2 metres from others (if a non-medical mask or cloth face covering is available, it may be offered). The person should then move away from others and perform hand hygiene as soon as possible.
- Others should maintain a distance of two metres from an ill person.
- All employees should practice regular hand hygiene.
For federal employees who provide health care to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19
These employees should follow the COVID-19 for health professionals infection prevention and control guidance provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the relevant interim guidance for health care settings where applicable.
If there are any questions or concerns regarding this General Advisory and/or your present health status, please consult with your departmental OHS committee.
Given that federal employees of the core public administration work in a variety of settings domestically and internationally, this General Advisory is supplemented by annexes with information and recommendations pertaining to specific places of work or situations.
Annexes completed to date are as follows:
- Annex A: Advice for Federal Employees at Points of Entry in Canada
- Annex B: Advice for Canada-Based Staff at Missions Abroad
- Annex C: Advice for Canada-Based Staff in Wuhan Supporting Flights for Repatriation of Canadians
- Annex D: Personal Protective Equipment Guidance for Federal Employees: On-Site Support in Trenton for Repatriation of Canadians from Wuhan
- Annex E: Advice for Canada-Based Staff in Japan Supporting Flight for Repatriation of Canadians Onboard the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship
- Annex F: Personal Protective Equipment Guidance for Federal Employees: On-Site Support in Trenton and Cornwall for Repatriation of Canadians from Diamond Princess Cruise Ship in Japan
- Annex G: Advice for Canada-Based Staff at the Embassy of Canada to Japan
- Annex I: Advice for Canada-Based Staff in San Francisco Supporting Flight for Repatriation of Canadians Onboard the Grand Princess Cruise Ship
- Annex J: Personal Protective Equipment Guidance for Federal Employees: On-Site Support in Trenton for the Repatriation of Canadians from Grand Princess Cruise Ship in San Francisco
Please note that annexes C, D, E, F, G, I and J are no longer in effect. As the situation evolves, this General Advisory and any guidance documents will be updated as required.
The Public Service Occupational Health Program is responsible for providing occupational health guidance to federal departments in Schedule I and IV of the Financial Administration Act and as such has prepared this advice for its client departments.
However, it may be appropriate for other federal departments outside of Schedule I and IV to consider these recommendations for their federally-regulated workplace. Individual departments will need to determine which recommendations apply to their occupational health needs.
Additionally, to assist federal departments in meeting their obligations under Part II of the Canada Labour Code, please refer to the webpage on coronavirus and occupational health and safety.
Other sources of information
Public Service Occupational Health Program
- Occupational health tool kit: Preventing the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in workplaces in the Government of Canada's core public administration
Public Health Agency of Canada
- Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Outbreak update
- Preventing COVID-19 in the workplace: Employers, employees and essential service workers
- Risk-informed decision-making guidelines for workplaces and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Community-based measures to mitigate the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Canada
- COVID-19 List of Affected Areas
- About non-medical masks and face coverings
Global Affairs Canada
Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer
Employment and Social Development Canada Labour Program
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
World Health Organization
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