How can employers safely reopen workplaces?

Planning, technology key to successful return: Lawyer

How can employers safely reopen workplaces?
Employers should think about common touchpoints, surfaces and other tools that workers may share, says a legal expert.

Health and safety is paramount for both employers and employees as we navigate a return to workplaces but what are the main considerations when reopening?

“The key in each province is you’ve got to line yourself up with the recommended protocols that are set out with the occupational health and safety bodies,” says Maxwell Brunette, partner at Gowling in Calgary. “See what the regulators are saying about it and line yourself up with those standards.”

Brunette gave Canadian HR Reporter a sneak peek at key points in his upcoming talk at the HRD Employment Law Masterclass 2021 on Feb. 16.

For those employers that have manufacturing of plant facilities, the big challenge is trying to ensure that appropriate social distance is maintained,” says Brunette. “But again, best practice is to go to the WorkSafeBC or the Alberta OHS website and check their detailed protocols.”

Before setting up these plans, employer should be asking if certain jobs can be done from home instead of the office “and trying to find ways to accommodate employees who can work from home,” says Brunette.

That could mean investing in staff tools at home if needed, he says.

“If they didn’t have a good computer at home or good printing setup, pay for it or offer incentives; [offer] allowances to get a home office.”

To assess the office’s suitability and safety, a number of questions have to be asked, according to Brunette: “Have you considered areas where people gather? Have you considered places where workers are close to customers or other members of the public? Consider entrances, exits, shop floors, that sort of stuff. How about vehicle transportation, how do people get to work?”

Set up a safety committee as well and think about common touchpoints and surfaces and other tools that workers may share, says Brunette.

When a potential infection from COVID-19 occurs in the workplace, employers have to spring into action, he says.

“First step would be isolate that worker, ensure they’re at home and they’re taken care of from that perspective. Your next move is do some close contact tracing; figuring out within the workplace whom might that person have had close contact with, and then ensuring that those close contacts are also isolating for the recommended period of time.”

Keeping in mind privacy concerns once an infection has been confirmed, other workers who may have been in contact will have to notified, says Brunette.

“You want to keep the individual’s name anonymous; you will want to alert people, for example, that if you’ve got people on the 15th floor, they are notified. That area should be subject to some enhanced enhance cleaning immediately.”

As well, make use of technological tools to monitor employee health daily, says Brunette.

“[It’s about] having employees fill out a daily record — I see a lot of use of apps — having employees respond if they’re attending premises every morning; they’ve got to log on to the app and confirm that they’re not suffering from any symptoms.”

Canadian HR Reporter also spoke to experts about whether organizations can force employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine and how far they should go to accommodate parents.

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