Public Service Occupational Health Program preventive practices for responding to COVID-19 in the workplace
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- Layered approach to preventive practices
- Entering the worksite after COVID-19 exposure or illness
- Higher-risk workplaces
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Health Canada's Public Service Occupational Health Program (PSOHP) developed this document to provide information on best practices to support departments and agencies in the core public administration in managing COVID-19 in their varied operational contexts. This document is not prescriptive; it highlights preventive practices rather than prescribed requirements. Departments and agencies should continue to work with their Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) teams and committees to tailor these practices to their different work settings and employee functions.
Layered approach to preventive practices
Multiple preventive practices are used in a layered approach to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory infectious illnesses in the workplace. Combinations of preventive practices are more effective than single measures on their own. They may vary based on differing settings and circumstances.
Staying home when sick
Employees, clients or visitors who are ill should not enter the workplace. This includes anyone who:
- is experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19
- has tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 5 days (with either a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or rapid antigen test)
- is in quarantine or isolation
Passive screening signage can be used before employees, clients and visitors enter the workplace.
If someone starts showing symptoms of COVID-19 while in the workplace, they should isolate and return home, and follow applicable local public health guidance.
Physical distancing provides an additional layer of protection when practised in indoor spaces where the settings or operations allow.
Masks are one of the most effective ways that employees can protect themselves and others from COVID-19.
A well-constructed, well-fitting and properly worn mask can help prevent the wearer from getting COVID-19 or other respiratory illnesses, by reducing the amount of infectious respiratory particles inhaled. They also prevent the wearer from spreading illness to others, by containing infectious particles produced if someone is infected. Masks provide an additional layer of protection where physical distancing is not possible, especially in crowded areas and in poorly ventilated settings.
Although mask wearing is only required in certain higher-risk workplaces, departments and agencies should create a mask-friendly environment so people feel comfortable wearing a mask or respirator at any time if they choose to do so, and should make medical masks or respirators available for employees and clients.
Hand hygiene is a good routine practice for COVID-19 and other infectious illnesses, including frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
Departments and Agencies are encouraged to provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer in the workplace.
Evidence shows that vaccines are very effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. It is recommended that all employees stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations by receiving a primary series and a booster dose or doses when eligible.
Rapid testing can help prevent employees who are ill from entering the worksite. Rapid testing identifies employees who are not showing symptoms of infection, but who may be carrying COVID-19.
Rapid tests are available for all federal departments and agencies. Employees are encouraged to use rapid tests.
Ventilation is an important part of reducing the risk of indoor transmission of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses. Maintain good quality indoor environmental conditions as required by the National Joint Council Occupational Health and Safety Directive.
Cleaning and disinfecting
Cleaning and disinfecting help to limit the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious illnesses.
Departments and agencies should clean and disinfect high-traffic work areas or frequently touched surfaces appropriately. They should also provide the necessary cleaning and disinfecting facilities and products, including for workstations and shared equipment.
Entering the worksite after COVID-19 exposure or illness
Employees who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 can continue to enter the worksite if they:
- are free of symptoms and
- have not been told to quarantine by the local public health authority
Employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 with either a rapid antigen test or a PCR test should not return to the worksite for at least 5 days.
When returning to the workplace, they:
- must not have any symptoms, except for a residual cough
- should follow any local public health requirements as applicable
Some workplaces are at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission (for example, health care settings and congregate living facilities). Departments and agencies may consider implementing more rigorous COVID-19 infection prevention and controls in these settings.
Corporate OHS teams may contact PSOHP for questions about this guidance by email at email@example.com.
If employees have questions about preventive practices in their specific workplaces, they may contact their department or agency's OHS program for more information.
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