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WorkSafeBC issues COVID-19 guidelines as businesses ready to reopen


May 19, 2020
By Hina Alam and Nick Wells/The Canadian Press

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A worker safety poster from WorkSafeBC.

British Columbia’s workplace safety agency released new guidelines Friday as businesses across the province get set to reopen.

WorkSafeBC’s guidelines cover sectors ranging from restaurants to offices, including guidance on how many people should be allowed in a business as well as controlling entry and exit points.

Al Johnson, the agency’s head of prevention services, said the guidelines were a “collaborative exercise” that included employers, retail and safety associations, restaurants, agriculture groups and government ministries.

In every industry, the guidelines emphasize having as little contact with customers as possible and ensuring social distance is maintained when they reopen on Tuesday.

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WorkSafeBC advises businesses to follow the protocol on gatherings, limiting events, such as museum tours, and working to establish safe occupancy limits.

It said specific guidelines for sports and recreation as well as child care will be released later.

Worker safety plan must be displayed

But before reopening, the safety agency said businesses need to ensure they have a COVID-19 safety plan to protect workers and it must be displayed.

Johnson said every employer and business is different but the main safety issues revolve around the general principles of maintaining distance, and not just between workers but with members of the public as well. The principles also include good sanitation and hygiene, cleaning, and rethinking business practices.

“Undoubtedly, the devil is in the details when it comes to developing a plan, a safety plan … so there will be questions, there will be people who need more information and we’re prepared,” Johnson said in an interview.

Employers should seek input from workers to ensure their concerns are addressed, he added.

Inspections, complaint-driven enforcement

About 300 prevention officers will oversee enforcement of the guidelines through unannounced inspections and taking complaints, he said.

“We want employers to succeed here so we are wanting to do everything with them and make sure employers have everything in place,” Johnson said.

If employers don’t have a health and safety plan or don’t intend to create one then WorkSafeBC will take action, he said.

“We will write orders and take them to sanction should we need to like any other health and safety violation in the workplace,” he said.

Penalties could include a ticket, an order, monetary sanction or even shutting down a business until a violation is corrected.

“We’re hoping it doesn’t come to that,” he said.

Johnson said employees have a right to refuse to go to work if they feel unsafe and should follow information on the WorkSafeBC website to file a complaint.

The agency says it will continue developing industry-specific guidelines as more businesses across B.C. begin reopening over the coming months.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has previously said businesses are under no obligation to reopen on Tuesday, and they should only do so when they are ready.