Recent PHO orders transitioning back to COVID-19 safety plans
Earlier in the pandemic, employers were asked to create and implement detailed COVID-19 safety plans. On July 1, 2021, those plans were replaced by a more general focus on Communicable Disease Prevention as the province began to reopen.
On January 7, 2022, the provincial health officer announced an order requiring employers to reinstate those site specific, prescriptive COVID-19 safety plans to address the elevated risk currently facing us with the Omicron variant. While communicable disease prevention plans and COVID-19 Safety Plans share some of the same fundamental principles, COVID-19 Safety Plans are formal, written plans with more rigorous controls and are more appropriate for periods of elevated risk.
The COVID-19 safety plan will supersede the basic principles of communicable disease prevention during this period of elevated risk by incorporating more specific protocols for preventing COVID-19 transmission. These may include occupancy limits, physical distancing, and barriers.
I want to ensure you have the most recent information to help you through this transition, so we can best protect our workers and workplaces from COVID-19.
What employers need to do
Many employers had COVID-19 Safety Plans earlier in the pandemic, and others may have maintained all or many of the measures from their COVID-19 Safety Plans. All employers are advised to review their COVID-19 Safety Plans to ensure that they are current and aligned with all guidance and orders from the provincial health officer.
With the involvement and participation of workers, employers should review and update their COVID-19 Safety Plans to ensure they remain effective at reducing the risk of exposure, including:
- Reviewing existing procedures and worker protections
- Where needed, enhancing those protections to the extent practicable
- Communicating with workers to ensure they understand their role in controlling the risk
If workers test positive for COVID-19, they need to follow the guidance of the BC Centre for Disease Control around taking care of themselves, self-isolating, and notifying close contacts.
Evidence shows that vaccination is the best control measure available to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to consider staff-vaccination policies based on their own due diligence.
Although employers may face challenges operating with a reduced workforce due to COVID-19 at times, they must continue to protect the health and safety of workers who remain at work. In times of staff shortages, employers should have a contingency or business continuity plan to ensure their business can continue to operate in a safe manner with consideration of factors such as level of training and supervision needed.
With this new order in place, and as part of our regular inspectional work, WorkSafeBC Prevention Officers will look for updated COVID-19 safety plans at worksites.
What workers need to do
Workers play an important role in preventing the transmission of COVID-19 by participating in the review of the COVID-19 Safety Plan. Each worker should be aware of and follow their workplace health and safety responsibilities and protocols outlined in the plan, including guidance on self-managing COVID-19 symptoms as outlined by the BCCDC.
Workers have the right to refuse work if they believe it presents an undue hazard. An undue hazard is an “unwarranted, inappropriate, excessive, or disproportionate” hazard. For COVID-19, an “undue hazard” would be one where a worker’s job role places them at increased risk of exposure and adequate controls are not in place to protect them from that exposure.
For more information, see our COVID-19 information for workers.
We’re here to help
Workers and employers with questions or requiring additional advice or direction can call WorkSafeBC’s Prevention Information Line at 1.888.621.7233 to speak directly with a prevention officer.