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Preparing your workplace for a second wave of COVID-19

Staff should be educated on all elements of COVID-19 plan and receive training where necessary


August 21, 2020
By Kristina Vassilieva

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As the Canadian economy reopens, employers are encouraged to prepare their workplaces and employees for a second wave of COVID-19. (Nagaiets/Getty Images)

Now that most workplaces have opened and children are set to return to schools across the country this September, some experts are warning of a potential second wave of COVID-19.

Businesses have already endured their share of challenges throughout the past several months and will no doubt continue to be affected if the number of new cases of the virus begin to rise.

Learning from past mistakes, businesses owners can assess their initial response at the start of the pandemic to better protect their workplace health and safety going forward.

Moving forward, employers should consider the strengths and weaknesses of how they managed health and safety in their workplace this past spring, according to Hope McManus, head of health and safety at HR consultancy Peninsula Canada in Toronto.

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“Due to a lack of initial government guidance on COVID-19, some businesses may have been slow to implement new health and safety measures, train employees or (send) their employees to work from home where this was possible,” she said.

“This is understandable, given how unprecedented the situation was and the uncertainty around it. However, if a second wave of COVID-19 does occur, employers will be able to draw from past experiences when determining how to respond this time around.”

Assessing health and safety policy 

Assessing whether existing health and safety measures would be sufficient — if risk to employees and visitors were to increase — will help employers determine what further changes need to be made, said McManus.

“Employers may want to assess their staffing requirements to see if they can bring down capacity in their workplace,” she said. “Reducing physical contact with the help of technology, such as contactless payment, self-serve options, automation and other virtual services, is also encouraged.”

If a second wave does hit, now is the time for businesses to be preparing their workplaces and employees, said McManus.

Employers can start by updating their COVID-19 plan, ordering enough hygiene supplies and personal protective equipment, and providing updated and ongoing education to staff.

“Every workplace should have a COVID-19 plan,” she said. “This should state how risks have been assessed and mitigated, how new work procedures will be implemented, what will be done if an employee contracts the virus and the workplace’s plan for contact tracing, among other information.”

Staff should be educated on all the elements of the plan and receive training where necessary, advised McManus.

“It is important that all workers know how to physically distance, use protective equipment and practise increased hygiene. Making sure employees are following these rules should be a top priority for management.”

Considering further supports

Employers should also consider that some workers may require other forms of support. As the pandemic continues, some individuals might experience poor mental health, fear or anxiety.

Encouraging workers to give input on health and safety practices in the workplace can be helpful in reducing their worries and help management in mitigating risks.

“As an example, creating a feedback system where employees can anonymously express their concerns can help employers understand their workforce better,” said McManus. “Some workers might be worried by their co-workers not following health and safety practices correctly, or they might think existing health and safety measures in the workplace are not enough.”

“This kind of channel will encourage employees to speak out and can help their mental well-being by making them feel considered and giving a sense of control over their working conditions.”

Mental health resources — such as employee assistance programs — can also be a helpful for employers in support their employees’ well-being.

Employers should initiate the conversation on mental health in their workplace and encourage staff to make use of all resources and programs available.

This type of support will be important as businesses continue to prepare for and adjust to more potential changes in the coming months.

Kristina Vassilieva is an HR writer for Peninsula Canada in Toronto.