Risk mitigation tool for workplaces/businesses operating during the COVID-19 pandemic
Objective: This tool will assist workplaces/businesses in considering risks to employees, customers and clients during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, and provide examples of measures that may be implemented at the workplace/business to mitigate potential risks.
Audience: Employers and business owners.
This tool is not applicable to workplaces where health care is provided. First responders and health care workers should follow the occupational health and safety and infection prevention and control practices within their workplace.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many provinces and territories required workplaces/businesses to close, except those providing essential services and goods. Refer to your provincial or territorial website for the list of essential services and updates on the restriction of non-essential services. As provinces and territories lift or adjust restrictive public health measures, workplaces/businesses should consider risks and identify risk mitigation measures to implement when re-opening or operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. Use this tool along with relevant provincial/territorial health authority recommendations.
Public health measures taken by workplaces/businesses are part of Canada's collective approach to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19. This tool is based on concepts outlined in the guidance developed for community-based measures titled: Community-Based Measures to Mitigate the Spread of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) in Canada. It reflects the currently available scientific evidence and expert opinion, and is subject to change as new information on transmissibility, epidemiology, and effectiveness of public health and risk mitigation measures becomes available. Employers should review and revise business continuity plans as needed, prioritize key functions in the event of workplace absenteeism, and ensure emergency contact information is up-to-date.
What are the COVID-19 risks at my workplace/business?
The following facts about COVID-19 and associated questions can help you consider the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace/business.
The risk level is affected by the level of COVID-19 activity in the local community. If there is known COVID-19 activity in your community, the likelihood that it could be introduced into the workplace/business is higher. The risk of COVID-19 introduction and spread is also presumed to be greater if a higher proportion of individuals visit the workplace/business from outside of your community.
COVID-19 spreads from person to person, most commonly through respiratory droplets (e.g., generated by a coughing, sneezing, laughing or talking) during close interactions (i.e., within 2 metres). COVID-19 can be spread by infected individuals who have mild symptoms, or who have not yet or who may never develop symptoms.
- Do employees have close interactions with clients or other employees throughout their shift? Do clients have close interactions with other clients? Workplaces/businesses with a higher number of contacts are presumed to have greater risk.
- Do employees have prolonged close interactions with clients or other employees? Do clients have prolonged close interactions with other clients? Prolonged contact is defined as lasting for more than 15 minutesFootnote 1, and may be cumulative (i.e., over multiple interactions). Person-to-person spread is more likely with prolonged contact.
- Is the business/workplace crowded (i.e., high density of people) on a regular basis? A crowded setting is presumed to have greater risk.
- Is the workplace indoors or outdoors? If indoors, can windows be opened? A confined indoor space is presumed to have greater risk.
COVID-19 can also be spread through touching something with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.
- Do employees frequently have contact with high-touch surfaces (i.e., frequently touched by others)? Do clients frequently have contact with high-touch surfaces? A higher frequency of contact with high-touch surfaces (e.g., door handles, service counters, card payment machines) is presumed to have greater risk.
- Does the set-up of your workplace/business enable employees/clients to wash and/or sanitize their hands before and after contact with high-touch surfaces (e.g., access to hand hygiene stations/supplies)?
COVID-19 can cause more severe illness among people who are 65 and over, and those who have compromised immune systems or other underlying medical conditions.
- Are you aware whether your employees belong to any of these higher risk groups? NOTE: Employers cannot assume they know the health status of individual employees and are not necessarily entitled to this information. Employees may choose to confidentially disclose health status to employers and accommodations can be made accordingly.
- Do you have clients who are at higher risk of severe illness (e.g., older adults)?
COVID-19 spread can occur when personal preventive practices are not consistently followed.
- Are your clients able to follow hygiene practices such as washing hands frequently, respiratory etiquette, and identifying when they are feeling ill and staying home? For example, young children are less likely to be able to carry out these practices.
How can my workplace/business mitigate COVID-19 risks?
To prevent and/or limit the spread of COVID-19 in community-based settings such as your workplace/business, consider the following risk mitigation principles and measures. Risk mitigation measures that are more protective involve separating people from each other or shared surfaces through physical distancing and physical barriers. Measures that are less protective rely on individuals to consistently follow personal preventive practices (e.g., environmental cleaning, use of personal protective equipment, wearing of non-medical masks or cloth face coverings). In some settings, physical distancing or separation may not be possible. To maximize safety, use a “layered” approach with multiple measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread, including decreasing the number of interactions with others and increasing the safety of interactions. Layering of multiple mitigation measures strengthens the risk mitigation potential overall. The following examples of risk mitigation measures are provided for your consideration. The following list is not exhaustive – you are encouraged to find creative and adaptive ways to mitigate risk in your workplace/business setting that align with public health advice and are respectful of workers.
Discourage people who are ill from entering the workplace/business.
- Strengthen communication strategies for employees, clients, customers
- Require that employees stay at home if ill with symptoms of COVID-19 until criteria to discontinue isolationFootnote 2 have been met, in consultation with the local public health authority or healthcare provider
- Adjust personal/sick leave policies to enable employees to stay home when ill, undergoing COVID-19 testing, in quarantine (self-isolation), or if they are taking care of children or someone who is ill
- Post accessible signage to discourage employees/clients who are ill from entering the workplace/business setting
- If feasible, consider asking clients if they are ill or have symptoms of COVID-19 before they enter the workplace/business setting or when making appointments, and ask clients who are ill to not attend the workplace/business
Promote and facilitate personal preventive practices. Everyone plays a part in making workplaces/businesses safer, including employers, employees, contractors, clients, and all others who interact with workplaces/businesses.
- Keep your employees informed about public health advice applicable to your workplace/business
- Promote the use of personal practices (e.g., frequent hand hygiene, avoid touching the face, respiratory etiquette, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces with approved products)
- Post signage that reminds employees/clients to practice these measures, ensuring that it is appropriate for the employees'/clients' age, ability, reading level and language preferences
- Provide increased access to hand hygiene facilities (e.g. by placing hand sanitizer dispensers in easy to see locations) and ensure accessibility for employees/clients with disabilities or other accommodation needs
- Promote increased environmental cleaning of employees' work environments (e.g., provide sanitizing wipes so employees can clean their own workstations)
- Support and encourage employees to take care of their mental health
Promote physical distancing (keeping a distance of 2 metres from others), which is one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of illness.
- If possible, reduce all physical contact by enabling telework (e.g., work from home, use of email and teleconferencing)
- Adopt a contact-less business model (e.g., drive-through, delivery, curbside pickup)
- Establish 2 metre separation between employees and/or clients (e.g., desks, workstations, restaurant tables, or in meeting rooms)
- Avoid multi-person meetings by using video conferencing technology where possible
- Restrict occupant capacity of indoor spaces to reduce crowding
- In narrow hallways or aisles, encourage unidirectional travel where possible
- Use visual cues to encourage 2 metre distance (e.g., accessible signage, floor markings)
- Reinforce general practices to maintain physical distancing, such as avoiding greetings like handshakes
- Identify a space where employees or clients can be isolated from others if they develop symptoms and are not able to leave the facility
Create physical barriers between employees/clients when physical distancing is not possible.
- Install physical separations between employees/clients (e.g. physical barriers like a plexiglass window or cubicle higher than head-height)
- Open windows if possible and, if weather permitsFootnote 3
- Move work outside when possible
Mitigate risks from exposure to high-touch surfaces (i.e., frequently touched by others).
- Increase frequency of environmental cleaning, especially of high touch surfaces or equipment (e.g., shared photocopier, elevator buttons, cash register, washrooms)
- Reduce the number of common surfaces that need to be touched (e.g., prop doors open, no-touch waste containers)
- Restrict access to non-essential shared equipment
- Clean and disinfect essential shared equipment before and after use
- Offer contactless payment methods (i.e., minimize use of cash), if possibleFootnote 4
Mitigate risk for people at higher risk of severe illness.
- Provide equitable workplace accommodations (e.g., role/task reassignment), if possible, for employees who have risk factors for severe disease
- Provide special accommodations for clients from vulnerable groups (e.g., dedicated shopping hours for seniors)
Modify practices to reduce how long employees/clients are in contact with each other and how many employees/clients come into contact with each other.
- Consider modifying service delivery (e.g., reducing the number of clients using services at the same time, providing services outdoors)
- Close or restrict access to non-essential common areas
- Stagger work hours or work days to reduce number of contacts
- Postpone non-essential meetings or travel
Should employees and/or clients wear masks?
- The wearing of non-medical masks (NMMs) or cloth face coverings is an additional personal practice that can help to prevent the infectious respiratory droplets of an unknowingly-infected person from coming into contact with other people.
- When the local epidemiology and rate of community transmission warrant it, the wearing of NMMs or cloth face coverings is recommended for periods of time when it is not possible to consistently maintain a 2 metre physical distance from others, particularly in crowded settings.
- Commercially available or homemade cloth masks or face coverings can play an important role in workplaces/businesses where consistent physical distancing or the use of physical barriers or other modification to the work environment or work flow are not possible or available.
- It is important that non-medical masks or cloth face coverings fit well and are worn safely.
- Masks may not be suitable for all types of occupation. When establishing policies regarding use of NMMs or cloth face coverings at your workplace/business, consider carefully the occupational requirements of your employees and the specific configuration of your workplace/business to ensure mitigation against any possible physical injuries that might inadvertently be caused by wearing a face covering (e.g., interfering with the ability to see or speak clearly, or becoming accidentally lodged in equipment the wearer is operating). Consider the potential psychological impacts of NMMs or cloth face coverings on other employees or clients (e.g., design/construction of the mask, messaging, etc.).
- NMMs are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE). Although all efforts should be made to preserve the supply of medical masks for healthcare settings, there may be some workplace/business settings for which PPE (e.g., medical masks) may be a more appropriate choice for the protection of the worker (e.g., providing services to a client who cannot wear a NMM or face covering when the 2 metre physical distance cannot be maintained, or measures such as plexiglass/transparent barriers are not possible or available).
Should employees wear personal protective equipment (PPE)?
- Recommendations for the use of PPEFootnote 5 are based on risk assessments of specific environments and risk of exposure. If your workplace/business has a joint occupational health and safety (OHS) committee (or representative, for small businesses), involve the OHS committee when considering risks associated with specific tasks/activities as well as the characteristics of the source of the infection (e.g., a person who is ill or a contaminated environment). If your workplace/business does not have an OHS committee, refer to guidance provided by your provincial/territorial occupational health organizations.
- If PPE is recommended, employees must be trained on the appropriate use of PPE and the sequence for putting it on (donning) and taking it off (doffing). Employees should also be trained about proper fit and provided with different sizes of PPE to account for anatomical differences, for example between women and men. Misuse of PPE can increase the risk of infection (e.g., through contact with potentially contaminated PPE).
Emergency preparedness and response
- Consider how emergency preparedness (e.g. building evacuation plans) are impacted by COVID-19 public health measures.
- Ensure that COVID-19 measures do not introduce new occupational hazards to the work setting (e.g., do not prop open fire doors to reduce exposure to frequently touched door handles)
- Communicate with employees about how to respond to emergencies as safely as possible while COVID-19 measures are in place.
For more information, COVID-19 resources for various occupations and industries are available from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).
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