Advice for essential retailers during COVID-19 pandemic
Essential retailers are providing critical services in their communities by ensuring safe and reliable access to food, supplies and other provisions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important for these retailers to implement appropriate public health measures and to adjust their operations to prevent and reduce the spread of COVID-19 among their workers and customers.
Below is advice for essential retailers, such as grocers, based on existing advice available here: Preventing COVID-19 in the workplace: employers, employees and essential service workers and Risk-informed decision-making guidelines for workplaces and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) provides additional advice for retailers on their website.
As new evidence emerges, advice for specific sectors will also continue to evolve. It is important to assess which specific public health measures are appropriate according to the needs of individual settings. Advice or orders from your local or regional Public Health Authority should be prioritized.
To prevent and limit the spread of COVID-19 in their workplaces, employers can:
Discourage people who are ill from entering the workplace/business
- Clearly communicate to workers and customers that they should not enter the workplace if they are ill, even with mild symptoms.
- Potential strategies include posting signs or having a worker standing at the entry to remind everyone.
- Consider having workers sign in and out to know who was in the workplace at specific times.
- Encourage and remind workers to self monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.
- Consider screening workers for signs of illness before entering the workplace.
- Develop a protocol and ensure workers know what to do if they develop symptoms while at work.
- Ill workers should return home immediately.
- Identify a space where an ill worker can isolate themselves from others until arrangements are in place for them to return home.
- Consider how they will return home without using public transit.
- Consider relaxing personal/sick leave policies for workers who are ill.
- Consider suspending the need for medical notes to return to work.
- Prepare for increases in personal/sick leave due to workers or their families becoming ill or school closures.
Promote and support the adoption of healthy practices
- Communicate the measures you are taking to prevent COVID-19 to staff and customers.
- Post signs promoting the use of individual public health measures to staff and customers to prevent transmission of COVID-19, such as:
- Staying home as per public health advice to isolate or quarantine (self-isolate)
- Coughing or sneezing into the bend of the arm
- Washing your hands frequently using soap and water for 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol)
- Practice physical distancing (of 2 metres) from others
- Encourage regular handwashing breaks.
- Provide access to education, training, and credible information resources for staff on COVID-19 prevention.
- Consider the use of non-medical masks or face coverings for workers and customers in situations where physical distancing cannot be maintainedFootnote 1, especially if the use of masks is recommended by your local Public Health Authority.
- Consult with your occupational health and safety (OHS) committee or representative refer to guidance provided by your provincial/territorial occupational health organizations before introducing mask-wearing policies to the workplaceFootnote 2.
- Non-medical masks or cloth face coverings are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE)Footnote 3.
- Recommendations for the use of PPE are based on assessments of the risk and the other prevention measures in place at your workplace.
- Provide access to PPE and training on its appropriate use, if necessary.
Modify service delivery approach and work flow to support physical distancing
- Enable physical distancing (of 2 metres) between individuals (e.g. co-workers and customers).
- Where physical distancing can't be maintained, consider installing physical barriers, such as plexiglass/transparent barriers, at workstations to create a barrier between individuals where possible.
- Determine maximum number of individuals (workers and customers) allowed in the workplace at any one time to maintain physical distancing.
- Once the maximum number of individuals for a store is reached, allow entry of one person in for every person that leaves.
- A potential option when calculating is one person per 2 square metres or 4 square meters of retail floor space.
- Consider assigning workers to greet and remind customers of the need for physical distancing upon their entry to the store, and to clean and disinfect shopping carts and baskets between customers.
- Consider whether additional personnel or security are required to maintain physical distancing and order at entry.
- Encourage customers to limit the number of people shopping together to 2 or 1 person per shopping cart.
- Promote physical distancing such as in lines at entrances, in check-out lines and inside the stores by using such measures as:
- floor tape;
- cones; or
- other markers every 2 metres
- Consider establishing unidirectional flow in aisles using floor signage, if possible, particularly if aisles are narrow.
- Modify service delivery approach to prevent and limit contact between workers and customers and among customers. Measures could include:
- Selling bulk items via gravity feed bins or have staff dispense the bulk items
- Providing clean carry-out bags or other containers for purchased food and grocery products
- Informing customers that customer packaging (e.g. containers, reusable bags, or boxes) will not be handled by workers
- Offering online or telephone food and grocery orders with delivery or pick up services as alternatives to shopping in person if possible, especially for vulnerable populations
- Offering dedicated shopping hours for seniors and other vulnerable populations, such as immediately after the store has been cleaned and disinfected
- Encourage tap payment over pin pad use and money exchange, if possible.
Enhance environmental cleaning and disinfecting
- Develop and/or enhance your workplace's environmental cleaning procedures and protocols as applicable.
- Establish the cleaning protocol to be followed if a worker develops symptoms of COVID-19 at work.
- Increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces (i.e., frequently touched by others, including shopping carts/basket handles, cash registers, payment keypads, touch screens, surface counters, customer service counters).
- Consider assigning a worker to clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces.
- Be aware of occupational health and safety requirements and understand the requirements under Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) in relation to hazardous products in the workplace.
- Use approved hard-surface disinfectants that have a Drug Identification Number (DIN) A DIN is an 8-digit number given by Health Canada that confirms the disinfectant product is approved for use in Canada.
- While most disinfectants will work against coronavirus, Health Canada has created a list of hard-surface disinfectants that are supported by evidence demonstrating that they are likely to be effective and may be used against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).
- You can also find more information on all other approved disinfectants and other drug products on Health Canada's searchable Drug Product Database.
- Choose products that clean and disinfect all at once if available (e.g. commercially available disinfectant solutions and/or wipes when available).
- If an approved disinfectant is not available due to supply issues, although they do not have claim to kill viruses such as those causing COVID-19, a diluted bleach solution can help limit the transfer of microorganisms and may be used.
- Prepare a diluted bleach solution according to instructions on the label or if using bleach that has a concentration of 5% sodium hypochlorite, add 5 mL (1 teaspoon) bleach in 250 mL (1 cup) of water or add 20 mL (4 teaspoons) bleach in 1 litre (4 cups) of water, to give a 0.1 % sodium hypochlorite solution. Be sure to prepare the solution fresh, when you are intending to use it, and only dilute bleach in water (and not with additional chemicals).
- Follow instructions for proper handling of household (chlorine) bleach.
- Provide infection prevention and control (IPC) equipment and supplies:
- Ensure that staff and public washrooms are always well stocked with liquid soap and paper towels or alternative hand drying equipment.
- Consider placing an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (minimum of 60% alcohol) or handwashing station near high traffic areas (e.g. entrance and exit doors) or near high-touch surfaces (e.g. pay stations).
- Ensure that cleaning and disinfecting products are readily available for staff to use, with appropriate PPE and plastic-lined waste containers.
Support the mental health and workplace wellness of essential workers
- Provide workers with the supports they need to feel empowered about their health.
- Provide access to education and training for to staff on COVID-19 prevention measures.
- Provide opportunities for workers to give feedback and suggestions on how operations have changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Acknowledge workers' concerns about risks associated with the pandemic and provide resources for psychological support, such as a distress centre phone line.
- Acknowledge that essential workers are being asked to take additional measures and responsibility to keep Canada functioning through this outbreak.
- Acknowledge that essential workers have other commitments that impact their ability to work and level of stress (e.g. taking care of family members).
- Recognize that essential workers may experience stigma for continuing to work.
- Provide access to credible information resources and support tools.
To prevent and limit the spread of COVID-19 in their workplaces, workers can:
- Read and comply with instructions from your employer and local public health
- Adhere and comply with personal public health measures.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after touching/handling surfaces and/or objects touched by others.
- Cough or sneeze into the bend of your arm.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Stay home if you are feeling unwell.
- Isolate yourself from others the minute you start feeling unwell. Notify your manager and go home as soon as possible, avoiding public transportation and taking measures to protect others around you.
- Stay home if you have been advised to isolate or quarantine (self-isolate) by local public health.
- Maintain an appropriate distance (ideally 2 metres) from co-workers and customers.
- Stay behind a physical barrier, if available.
- Limit unavoidable interactions with others to brief ones.
- Limit interactions with others during breaks.
- Consider wearing a non-medical mask or face covering (if it is suitable for your work) in situations where physical distancing is difficult to maintain, especially if the use of masks is recommended by your local Public Health AuthorityFootnote 4.
- If you are alone behind a physical barrier, the use of a non-medical mask or face covering is not necessary.
- Adhere to workplace infection prevention and control IPC practices:
- Keep your environment clean by using the cleaning/disinfecting supplies. provided by your employer.
- Clean/disinfect high-touch surfaces and objects frequently, such as
- cash registers
- interact/credit card machines
- conveyor belts
- bagging area
The Public Health Measures (PHM) technical guidance is developed and approved in collaboration with federal, provincial and territorial partners, via the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and/or the Special Advisory Committee (SAC). In its guidance development process, PHM also works closely with: multilateral partners; other government departments; First Nations, Inuit and Métis stakeholders (through the Public Health Working Group on Remote and Isolated Communities); Sex and Gender-based Analysis (SGBA) experts at Public Health Agency of Canada; and other external stakeholders with a vested interest or a stake in the guidance.
This guideline was prepared by: Fanie Lalonde and Kelsey Young
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