As discussed in our article on BC’s Restart Plan, WorkSafeBC is playing a critical role in assisting businesses and sectors as they restart their activities under Phase 2 and beyond. WorkSafeBC’s role in the Restart Plan is consistent with its overarching mandate to promote the prevention of workplace injury, illness, and disease. The particular role WorkSafeBC is playing in relation to COVID-19 is also consistent with its oversite of an employer’s statutory responsibility to ensure a safe and healthy workplace.
In the particular context of COVID-19, WorkSafeBC requires that employers develop a COVID-19 safety plan and implement policies to control exposure. As to what the plan and policies will look like, that will depend on a number of factors including the nature of an employer’s operations, its size, the risk of exposure/transmission, the job tasks performed, and the physical layout of the workplace. Information on how to develop a COVID-19 safety plan can be found here. While employers are not required to submit their plans for approval, as part of their inspections WorkSafeBC will be asking employers about the steps they have taken to ensure a safe and healthy workplace – which in the context of the “new normal” can be expected to include confirmation that the employer has a plan that has been communicated to workers and anyone else entering the workplace.
A key component of an employer’s COVID-19 safety plan will be the development of policies aimed at minimizing exposure in a workplace. Not surprisingly, given the Provincial Health Officer’s repeated reminders to stay home if you are feeling sick, policies should address who can attend at a workplace and how to address illness if it arises. As with all aspects of the COVID-19 safety plan, employers must ensure the policies are communicated to all workers and persons attending at the workplace and that supervisors and workers are trained on the requirements of the safety plan.
It is important to note that certain employers, such as those in the health and social service sectors, will require a more formal exposure control plan. A formal exposure control plan involves a more prescriptive development process and includes the requirement to engage a person with knowledge of the work and the hazards to assist with the creation of the plan.
As employers resume operations, or ramp back up operations, they should be prepared for workers raising concerns about the adequacy of the safety measures in place and the risk of exposure. Now is a great time for employers to re-familiarize themselves with the strict procedures for addressing refusals of unsafe work, and to ensure their supervisors and managers understand the requirements, so as to minimize the risk of prohibited action complaints associated with those refusals.
For more information on developing a plan and policies, WorkSafeBC has created a helpful FAQ Resource that addresses a broad range of topics from safety plans and the timing of reopening, to controlling exposure and resolving unsafe work refusals.
Note to our Readers: Information regarding COVID-19 is rapidly evolving. We are working to bring you up-to-date articles as the legal issues develop and to keep our previous posts updated. Given that the legal issues related to COVID-19 are constantly changing, if you are looking for legal advice or are dealing with an issue in relation to COVID-19, please contact your Harris lawyer or a member of our COVID-19 response team: Sari Wiens, Ilan Burkes, Nicole Toye or Jessica Fairbairn.
To read our most recent articles and other updates on COVID-19, visit our COVID-19 Updates page.