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.

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Purpose

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.

For up-to-date information on this disease outbreak, please refer to Canada.ca/coronavirus and the COVID-19 site for Government of Canada employees.

Novel coronavirus

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Some people may also be infected with and transmit the virus even though they do not show any symptoms.
  3. 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.

Healthy practices

Hygiene measures

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

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

Cleaning protocols

Travel

Major events and large gatherings

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.

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).

Passive screening

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).

Active screening

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).

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.

Contact information

If there are any questions or concerns regarding this General Advisory and/or your present health status, please consult with your departmental OHS committee.

Annexes

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:

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.

Scope

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

Public Health Agency of Canada

Global Affairs Canada

Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer

Justice Canada

Employment and Social Development Canada Labour Program

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

World Health Organization

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