Public Service Occupational Health Program COVID-19 Guidance
On this page
- Workplace Preventive Practices
- Managers' Responsibilities
- Guidance for Federal Health Professionals
- Mental Health and Wellness Supports
- Contact Information
- Other Sources of Information
- COVID-19 is a disease caused by the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and was declared a global pandemic in March 2020. For more information about the illness, how it is spread, prevention and symptoms, visit the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) coronavirus disease page.
- Health Canada’s Public Service Occupational Health Program (PSOHP) is responsible for providing occupational health guidance to federal Departments and Agencies in the core public administration (operationalized as Schedule I and IV of the Financial Administration Act).
- This guidance provides federal departments with current occupational health guidance in relation to COVID-19.
- The national level occupational health guidance in relation to COVID-19 is grounded in the latest science and advice from PHAC.
- Deputy Heads are ultimately responsible for the health and safety of their employees. It is important for Departments and Agencies to ensure practices continue to reflect this national level advice from PSOHP as they adopt a tailored approach by workplace location, based on the local context for COVID-19, taking into account provincial, territorial, or local guidance. Departments and Agencies should continue to work with their Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Policy Committees.
- This information replaces earlier versions of PSOHP COVID-19 guidance including the General Occupational Health Advisory along with its annexes concerning specific workplaces, and the Occupational Health Tool Kit and associated tip sheets.
- This guidance document will be updated in the coming weeks to reflect the latest public health advice from PHAC. When a sufficient proportion of the population has been fully vaccinated and COVID-19 activity in our communities is very low, PSOHP will provide guidance on the gradual lifting of public health measures to support the planning for a progressive return to federal workplaces.
- It may also be appropriate for other federal Departments and Agencies outside of Schedule I and IV (i.e., separate employers) to consider these recommendations for their federally-regulated workplace.
- The national level occupational health guidance in this document is aligned with the most recent advice from PHAC. This advice indicates that while some public health measures are being gradually lifted across the country, in some settings, such as workplaces, people may still be asked to wear a mask and physically distance from others based on reopening plans and how many COVID-19 cases are being reported in the community.
- Workplaces include different people, from different households, and with differing or unknown vaccination status. This includes colleagues and clients who cannot be vaccinated, have not yet been vaccinated, or who may be more vulnerable to illness.
- Even though in some jurisdictions, individual protective measures at home and in the community may relax for those who are fully vaccinated, in the workplace it continues to be important to follow preventive measures that will help protect everyone. This applies regardless of an individual’s vaccine status.
Workplace Preventive Practices
- As efforts continue across Canada to increase overall vaccine coverage and lower community transmission, public health measures remain the foundation of the pandemic response.
- Community transmission of COVID-19 continues in many areas across Canada, and new variants of concern have been identified and are circulating. This is why it is even important to consistently use multiple preventive practices at once in a layered approach, including using a non-medical mask, physical distancing, and proper hand hygiene.
- All public servants with no contraindications to vaccination are strongly encouraged to get fully vaccinated.
- Vaccination is one of the most effective ways to protect our colleagues, clients, families, communities and ourselves against COVID-19. Evidence indicates that vaccines are effective at preventing serious outcomes, such as severe illness, hospitalization and death due to COVID-19.
- Only vaccines that are proven to be safe, effective and of high quality are authorized for use in Canada.
- While current evidence shows good effectiveness after one dose, most COVID-19 vaccines require two doses to be considered fully vaccinated. Optimal protection is attained 14 days after a second dose. Everyone is encouraged to get a full vaccine series when they are eligible to do so.
- For more information on vaccines and vaccination, please refer to Vaccines for COVID-19 - Canada.ca.
- Non-medical masks are an important public health measure that can help prevent the transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 – it protects others and can help protect the wearer.
- Wearing a mask alone won’t prevent the spread of COVID-19. You must also consistently follow personal preventive practices.
- To protect yourself and others, wear a well-constructed and well-fitting non-medical mask in all common areas and shared spaces – indoors and outdoors.
- In the workplace, shared spaces may include open office spaces, common areas, boardrooms, hallways, printer rooms, break rooms, labs, warehouses, washrooms and loading docks.
- In the workplace, wear a non-medical mask when sitting at a workstation in an open-concept environment, even if the stations are 2 or more metres apart. The same holds true even when you are alone in the workspace, as this will help guard against transmission in the event that someone else enters the space.
- Enclosed offices and other workspaces for one person with the door closed are not considered a common space, and therefore, the mask can be removed if someone is working alone.
- Masks can be removed for eating and drinking, for as brief a period as possible. Employees should be encouraged to eat with as few other people as possible, consider staggered lunch breaks to reduce the number of employees in common areas, and maintain physical distance.
Choosing the right mask
- A well-constructed, well-fitting, and properly worn mask is key.
- A non-medical mask should:
- be made of multiple layers, including
- at least 2 layers of tightly-woven fabric, such as cotton and
- a third middle layer of filter-type fabric, such as non-woven polypropylene
- use materials that are breathable.
- be made of multiple layers, including
- In the workplace, Departments/Agencies will provide employees with non-medical masks and instructions about their appropriate use and disposal.
- Employees can also use their own non-medical mask in the workplace so long as it adheres to the available advice about type, quality and fit.
Local Considerations – Work with the Department/Agency OHS Program
- Public health officials make recommendations for wearing masks based on a number of factors. These factors include rates of infection and/or transmission in the community.
- Federal departments and agencies should continue to work with their department or agency’s Corporate OHS Program to adopt a tailored approach by workplace location, based on the local context for COVID-19, taking into account provincial, territorial, or local guidance on the use of masks or other local public health measures.
- Employees who work in workplaces outside of federal government facilities, for example, employees carrying out inspections or scientists conducting field work, should abide by local or provincial public health requirements for COVID-19 in those environments.
Personal Protective Equipment
- Non-medical masks are not personal protective equipment (PPE).
- There may be situations where medical masks or respirators are required rather than non-medical masks. This decision will be based on a risk assessment.
- Employees should consult with their departmental Corporate OHS Program for advice as to whether personal protective equipment, including specific masks or respirators, is required in their individual situation.
- More information can be found at Tip Sheet: Personal Protective Equipment.
Screening for staff, clients and visitors
- Staff, clients, and visitors should be screened for symptoms and exposure risk to COVID-19 prior to entering the workplace, through passive screening (signage) and if appropriate, through active screening (asking questions).
Signage can be placed at the entrances stipulating that employees/clients/visitors return home if they are experiencing any symptoms associated with COVID-19 (avoiding public transportation). Passive screening language should include the following:
STOP. Do not enter this facility if you have been:
- Experiencing any symptoms associated with COVID-19 (even if mild).
- Recently diagnosed with COVID-19 or are waiting for test results.
- Instructed by public health authorities to quarantine or isolate for any reason.
- In close contact with someone who has or has had a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the past 14 days.
Individuals who respond “yes” to any of the questions should not enter the facility, and should stay home and self-isolate unless otherwise advised by the local public health authority.
- This refers to asking people directly if they have symptoms of COVID-19, have had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the previous 14 days, or have been instructed by local public health authority to quarantine or isolate.
- If active screening is conducted in person (e.g., posing direct questions), it should take place in a well-ventilated area and the screener should be at the greatest physical distance possible from others, wearing a non-medical mask, consider using a physical barrier if appropriate, and following Corporate OHS Program directives.
- If they answer “yes” to any one of the screening questions, ask them to return home (avoiding public transportation and following personal protective practices such as practising hand hygiene, maintaining physical distancing and wearing a medical mask. If unavailable, properly wear a well-constructed, well-fitting non-medical mask.
- Information on using rapid tests for asymptomatic screening for COVID-19 in the workplace can be found at: Rapid testing in public service organizations.
- Minimize non-essential in-person interactions with others. If someone has to interact with others while in the workplace, try to have the least interactions possible with the fewest people at the greatest distance for the shortest duration of time.
- Maintain as much distance as possible between employees, coworkers and clients/visitors, and maximize spacing between desks, tables, and workstations.
Cleaning and disinfecting
- Provide the necessary cleaning and disinfecting facilities, and products to maintain a clean and safe workplace. This includes products such as wipes that employees can use for their workstation, telephones, computer keyboards, etc.
- Ensure that high-traffic work areas or frequently touched surfaces, such as elevator buttons, door handles, kitchen appliances, bathroom fixtures, water fountain knobs and push buttons, are cleaned and disinfected often.
- 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.
- Please refer to Health Canada’s list of hard-surface disinfectants and COVID-19: Cleaning and disinfecting for further information.
- Provide employees performing cleaning with any personal protective equipment recommended by occupational health and safety guidelines, and training to ensure it is used correctly.
- Follow the measures recommended by PHAC for Preventing COVID-19 in the Workplace: Employers, Employees and Essential Service Workers.
- Maintain good hand hygiene. This includes frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol, if soap and water are not available. Departments should refer to the list of hand sanitizers approved for sale in Canada.
- Employees should wash hands regularly, and before handling, preparing, serving or eating food, before and after touching their mask, after using the bathroom, after touching frequently-touched surfaces and objects. Protectands from touching potentially contaminated surfaces as one leaves the bathroom. For example, use a paper towel to open the door.
- 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 eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- For more tips on effective hand washing, refer to Reduce the Spread of COVID-19 – Wash Your Hands.
- In addition to following personal preventive practices, good indoor ventilation is an important part of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
- If interacting in an indoor setting, wear masks as recommended, avoid closed, crowded spaces and choose larger rooms with the greatest physical distance possible from those outside your household. Keep doors and windows open whenever possible.
- Many buildings use a central heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system with vents in the ceiling, walls or the floor. If an indoor space uses one of these systems, complete routine maintenance like clearing vents and fans, and changing the filter as recommended by the manufacturer; and run the system fan continuously at a low speed.
- Avoid using portable fans, ceiling fans, and single-unit air conditioners if possible. They do not improve ventilation and may circulate the virus in a space.
- For more information on ventilation, refer to: COVID-19: Guidance on indoor ventilation during the pandemic.
Rapid testing in public service organizations
- As part of a broader federal action plan to help slow the spread of COVID-19, the Government of Canada has expanded the use of rapid tests for screening purposes to key public sector workplaces.
- These include workplaces where there is a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 due to occupational tasks, where there is an increased possibility for an outbreak to occur, or where it is recommended by local public health authorities.
- Employees in participating organizations are offered rapid tests on a voluntary basis, administered by trained personnel, to enable early detection and assist in limiting the spread of the virus in the workplace and communities. All employees who receive a positive rapid test result will be asked to take a standard laboratory-based test through their local public health authority, in order to confirm the result.
- Rapid tests, in combination with existing public health measures, are an additional measure to help curb the spread of the virus by identifying employees who are not showing symptoms of infection, but who may be carrying COVID-19. Rapid testing does not replace existing public health preventive practices.
- For more information, please consult Rapid testing in public sector organizations.
Illness in the workplace
If someone starts showing symptoms
- Should an employee have or develop symptoms of COVID-19 while in the workplace, the individual who is ill should put on a medical mask (if unavailable, properly wear a well-constructed and well-fitting non-medical mask). If the mask is soiled, it should be replaced with another. Follow the appropriate instructions for the disposal of the soiled mask.
- Then, the individual who is ill should isolate themselves away from others as quickly as possible, and then return home (avoiding the use of public transportation).
- The employee should immediately call a health care professional or local public health authority and follow their advice regarding testing.
- Until the employee can leave the workplace, they should adhere to hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, and isolate in a separate room.
- Anyone who must interact with the employee should maximize physical distancing (at least 2 metres) from the person who is ill, practise rigorous hand hygiene, and wear their non-medical mask. If a plastic or plexiglass barrier is available, it should be put between the person who is ill and others.
- The privacy of the employee must be respected at all times.
- Consult the department or agency’s Corporate OHS Program for advice on cleaning the symptomatic employee’s workspace and common areas used by the employee.
- Managers are encouraged to adjust policies and procedures to reduce social contact, such as remote work with use of email and videoconference, and, if on-site, using flexible hours and, staggering start and break times.
- Managers are encouraged to engage their department or agency’s Corporate OHS Program. They should also keep their COVID-19 Business Continuity Plans updated.
- Managers should remind employees to follow personal protective practices such as hand hygiene, physical distancing from others, staying home when ill, and the use of non-medical masks in both the workplace and community.
- Managers, in consultation with their department or agency’s Corporate OHS Program must also review the employees’ occupational requirements and work environment to determine if engineering controls such as physical barriers can be put in place, or work processes can be modified, so that there are the fewest people possible in any shared space. Workspace configurations should allow for maximizing physical distancing from others.
- For instance, measures 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.
- As well, other options to be considered in consultation with real property service providers could include use of plexiglass barriers, as long as these barriers do not impede or interfere with optimal ventilation or fire protection equipment.
- Managers should mitigate against any possible physical and psychological injuries to employees and/or clients that might inadvertently be caused by wearing a non-medical mask, for example, such as masks interfering with the ability to see or speak clearly or becoming accidentally lodged in equipment the wearer is operating.
- Additional information on applying occupational health guidance in the workplace can be found in Tip Sheet: Applying Occupational Health Guidance in the Workplace.
- Employers can also access the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety’s COVID-19 Health and Safety Resources for more information.
- Avoid non-essential business travel, both domestically and internationally, until travel recommendations change. There may be mandatory isolation requirements for international travel and some provinces/territories may have their own isolation requirement for travel within Canada. Some international jurisdictions may also have requirements related to testing or vaccination.
- Please refer to federal travel health notices for further information and considerations.
Guidance for Federal Health Professionals
- Federal health professionals should follow the COVID-19 for health professionals’ infection prevention and control guidance provided by PHAC, and the relevant guidance for health care settings where applicable.
Mental Health and Wellness Supports
- The COVID-19 pandemic and the public health measures necessary to contain its spread continue to create stress for people and communities across Canada including federal public servants and their families.
- Under these challenging circumstances, it is perfectly normal to feel angry, anxious, lonely, sad or worried.
- It is important to acknowledge these feelings and the disruptions associated with COVID-19 to our lives. Engaging in an open dialogue about our emotional well-being with colleagues, and managers can help to improve and maintain our mental health in uncertain times.
- In the workplace, it is important to know this is not business as usual, and some people may have trouble working as effectively as they once did. There is no one right way for an employee to manage their mental health through a pandemic.
- There are resources people can access for help. Managers should make employees aware of these resources, remind them of these resources at regular intervals, and encourage employees to use them.
- If employees are in distress or would like to set up an appointment with a mental health professional, they may contact their department or agency’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for counselling with a mental health professional (also available in most Departments and Agencies for the immediate family members of employees).
- As well, they can access the Wellness Together Canada: Mental Health and Substance Use Support portal, an online resource for all Canadians that includes educational content and tools such as mental health assessments, mindfulness resources, and internet-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy supports. The portal was developed in response to the pandemic in partnership between the Government of Canada and community partners.
- For more information, please consult Mental Health and COVID-19 for Public Servants.
- If there are any questions or concerns regarding the application of this Guidance, please consult with the applicable department or agency’s Corporate OHS Program.
- The Public Service Occupational Health Program can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Public Service Occupational Health Program / Programme de santé au travail de la fonction publique : GCconnex
Other Sources of Information
- Tip Sheet: Applying Occupational Health Guidance in the Workplace
- Tip Sheet: Personal Protective Equipment
Public Health Agency of Canada
- Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Outbreak update
- Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Prevention and risks
- 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
Global Affairs Canada
Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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