The following message was sent by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat’s Chief Human Resources Officer.
In advance of sharing a more comprehensive guide and occupational health advice to assist you in your planning for easing of COVID-19 restrictions and possible increased access at your federal worksites, we have some important information to share on the use of non-medical masks or face coverings, and screening. This information may assist you in preparing plans for your organizations.
During this transition period, we know that employees will have many questions and concerns. Organizations should assure employees that the government is working on guidance to reduce the risk of transmission at worksites, including supporting employees in continuing to work remotely, ensuring physical distancing, cleaning and sanitizing workspaces frequently and installing engineering controls, such as physical barriers, where feasible. Encouraging employees to stay home if they are sick and following public health guidance continue to be crucial to stopping the spread of COVID-19.
It is important to remind employees that good hygiene practices (hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette) and physical distancing remain the most important measures they can take to protect their health and the health of others.
Your organization will need to update and review your hazard prevention programs based on the latest risk-mitigation advice. You should also consult Health Canada’s updated general occupational health advice, which will be available on canada.ca in the coming days. You can tailor this advice to your specific workplace needs by working with your occupational health and safety committee to review procedures and programs as necessary.
Non-Medical Masks or Face Coverings
When all other measures are exhausted, impractical or not feasible, Non-Medical Masks (NMMs) or cloth face coverings are an additional measure that can be used to protect others around them. They are to be worn for short periods of time where physical distancing is not possible or is unpredictable.
The purpose of non-medical masks (NMM) or face coverings should be clearly communicated to employees.
NMM or face coverings:
- are generally recommended as an additional public health measure, when it is not possible to consistently maintain a 2-metre physical distance from others, particularly in crowded settings
- are meant to contain the wearer’s respiratory droplets to protect others – they do not protect the wearer
- are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE) because they do not meet the requirements under the Canada Labour Code
The latest occupational health advice points to key factors that you will need to consider when updating your procedures:
- Occupational requirements of workers and their specific workplace configuration. For example, there could be instances where an employee’s face covering could become lodged in a piece of equipment
- Inclusion and accessibility issues, such as allowing lip reading (translucid panel masks can be procured) and interference with cultural or religious headdresses
- Some employees may want to wear NMM even when it is not recommended for added protection; consider allowing this within acceptable parameters of life cycle management and security considerations
- Others may refuse to do so even when distancing cannot be maintained. Safety of workers must prevail; involve your OHS Committee and Labour Relations as may be required
- Consider the local context for COVID-19 regarding community transmission in each location.
Recognizing the challenges in maintaining a two-metre distance at all times, departments will provide NMMs and/or cloth face coverings and instructions about their appropriate use and disposal.
PSPC has launched an online catalogue through which departments and agencies can purchase necessary supplies to help keep employees safe. The catalogue includes items like hand sanitizer, wipes and non-medical masks, which may be purchased in preparation for employees’ return to the workplace. Departments and agencies can request access to the online catalogue via email.
The use of protective equipment is only one tool in a broader strategy for a safe return to the workplace, and given the market realities for the goods, requests should be based on a careful review of departmental needs.
Employees should be encouraged to self-assess for symptoms of COVID-19. Health Canada’s online self-assessment tool helps employees complete a self-assessment. Employees can also access the tool through the free Canada COVID-19 app, which also provides access to useful resources and information.
Passive screening should be implemented and supported through signage and other information material.
In some locations, especially where services to the public are provided, organizations might consider active screening as described by Health Canada.
Public health authorities have signaled that physical distancing requirements will remain in place and many employees will find themselves continuing to work from home for some time to come. The easing of restrictions will bring a new phase for Canadians and for all of us in the public service. We will continue to work together and with you as we move forward.