Service Wide Committee on Occupational Health and Safety
For greater clarity, there is no set date to return to workspaces and this will vary by region, department/agency, individual circumstances and other potential factors. The Service Wide Committee on Occupational Health and Safety (SWOHS) understands telework will remain a primary focus wherever possible; however, the purpose of this document is to provide an overview of a component of the return to workspace process and specific responsibilities.
The SWOHS has recognized that there may be a lack of clarity surrounding the requirement for Workplace Health and Safety Committees and Policy Committees to be meeting during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Concerns have been raised that some Policy and Workplace Health and Safety Committees continue to meet regularly, while others may not meet as often, or at all.
Given the mandate of the SWOHS Committee, the following Communiqué has been developed to assist in better guiding departments/agencies and Policy Committees as well as Workplace Committees to ensure compliance with Part II of the Canada Labour Code, Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (COHSR) as well as the NJC OHS Directive. Departments and agencies are required to hold both Workplace and Policy Committee meetings, and ensure all necessary information is provided to committees and that they are adequately consulted.
Responsibilities and Obligations
The requirement is that departments and agencies are following the aforementioned legislation and regulations. Specifically, Workplace Committees shall meet nine times per year at minimum, while Policy Committees shall meet four times per year at a minimum. Given the current crisis, it is recommended that both Policy and Workplace Committees consider scheduling additional meetings, which can be held over conference call and/or video conference.
Policy Committees shall participate in the development, implementation and monitoring of a program for the prevention of hazards, including the corona virus and COVID-19, in the workplace that also provides for the health and safety education of employees.
In addition, both Workplace and Policy Committees shall participate in all of the inquiries, investigations, studies and inspections pertaining to the health and safety of employees, including any consultations that may be necessary with persons who are professionally or technically qualified to advise the Committee(s) on those matters and shall participate in the implementation and monitoring of a program for the provision of personal protective equipment, clothing, devices or materials. Finally, both Workplace and Policy Committees shall ensure that adequate records are maintained on work exposures, accidents, injuries and health hazards relating to the health and safety of employees and regularly monitor data relating to those exposures, accidents, injuries and hazards during the current pandemic and beyond.
As a reminder, hazard assessments shall be conducted with the participation of the Workplace and/or Policy Committees and should:
- Include a specific COVID-19 hazard assessment. Employers should work with employee representatives and employer representatives to assess the hazards and risks in the workplace, and set out specific steps, including enforcing social distancing and how hazards can be eliminated or mitigated (see COHSR 19.5) to ensure the health and safety of employees. The Policy Committee/Workplace Committee is consulted in the hazard assessment and participate in its development (Part XIX).
- Some considerations include (as examples only, not an exhaustive list):
- Elevators, kitchens and all shared areas of potential transmission.
- Detailed cleaning protocols.
- Accommodations. Planning for a potential increase in accommodations for those most vulnerable.
- Flexibility. Increasing the flexibility of the scheme to support short-time working, to enable people to gradually return to work
- Support. Ensuring the overall scheme still protects those who cannot work, including as an example, those who are self-isolating; those shielding or caring for someone who is self-isolating; parents who cannot work while schools are closed; and those who are ordered to self-isolate.
- Ensure that workers’ mental health and wellbeing is prioritised alongside physical safety. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) is making all their pandemic planning and mental health resources available at no charge. Those resources can be found here. The website Information for Government of Canada employees: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) provides online resources to public servants.
- Adhere to the hierarchy of controls Eliminating the hazard, using administrative controls such as staggered scheduling, controlling or restricting access to common spaces, more frequent cleaning/disinfecting of the workplace, preparing and training for emergency situations, as well as training and communication on COVID-related health and safety procedures and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Ensuring that workers have access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when the hazard cannot be eliminated through substitution, engineering or administrative controls. As it will be impossible to completely eliminate COVID-19 hazards in some workplace contexts through the use of substitution, engineering and administrative controls, an adequate supply of appropriate PPE will be critical to any strategy to physically return to work.
- Provide, personal protective equipment (PPE) where necessary, and provide training on its proper use. Where hazard assessments show that PPE is necessary employers shall provide it at no cost to the employees. Employees should receive training on its proper use, storage, removal and disposal.
- Provide information to employees to ensure working people can be reassured that health and safety both travelling to work as well as at work is a priority as they return to work. This should be on a scale similar to recent public information campaigns about coronavirus actions.
- Provide specific advice and protection for those groups most at risk. If these workers cannot work safely, accommodations and flexible working arrangements may be required.
- Consult Policy Committees, and where appropriate Bargaining agent representatives, when the employer prepares sector-specific guidance, and when employers seek to implement it. In addition, the SWOHS should be consulted on service-wide issues.
In closing, we encourage you to visit the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) that is making all their pandemic planning resources available at no charge. CCOHS has also prepared a series of COVID-19 tip sheets for a variety of workplace sectors, which can be found at no cost here.
 Preventive measures 122.2 Preventive measures should consist first of the elimination of hazards, then the reduction of hazards and finally, the provision of personal protective equipment, clothing, devices or materials, all with the goal of ensuring the health and safety of employees.