Waterloo, Ont. works to keep employers safe during COVID

COVID-19 Safe Ambassador Program provides free education, resources

Waterloo, Ont. works to keep employers safe during COVID

For small businesses in the Waterloo Region in southwestern Ontario that may feel overwhelmed by the rules around keeping employees and customers safe from COVID-19, a new organization may provide much-needed support.

The COVID-19 Safe Ambassador Program is a free service offered by the Greater Kitchener Waterloo, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and the Region of Waterloo to employers with 125 employees or fewer. It offers education, resources such as posters and face masks and is facilitated through NSF International, a global consulting firm that specializes in public health.

The program — which recently held its 1,600th session — offers a win-win for employers and the 20 student ambassadors involved who are studying public health or another science-related field of education at Conestoga College.

“They’ve been struggling to get meaningful employment so this is employment that is meaningful, right up their alley as they’re getting paid to provide this meaningful work to the community,” says Paul Medeiros, managing director of consulting, technical and retail audit services, at NSF International in Guelph, Ont. “The students visit businesses, they come provided with a toolkit that includes surgical-grade masks that were donated by a local company, as well as posters and a host of other materials. They spend 30 to 45 minutes in each business, basically looking around and seeing how well the business has adopted the COVID-19 protocols.”

It gives the businesses some peace of mind because although there’s guidance out there, there are the regulations that you can review, nothing really beats having a knowledgeable person enter your four walls and confirm what you’re doing that’s right and if you’re doing something wrong, I’m telling you as well that you’re doing something wrong,” says Medeiros.

Employers are also able to book a session online with the regional government.

The program was initially started across the border in Michigan, says Medeiros, and it moved to the Waterloo Region after the local government ponied up the entire cost of the initiative. “They’ve demonstrated great leadership and vision in wanting to provide this same service to the businesses and they self-funded the program to the tune of $900,000 because they felt they want to invest in the business community.”

Reaction so far has been positive, according to Medeiros, as many participants appreciated the effort and the seal of approval sticker they can display after completing the sessions.

“One of the Dairy Queen managers actually created a video that he shared and in his video, he’s talking about how great the program is. Another example, an auto shop called Ott’s Auto, they created something on their website talking about their program, and why they’re really proud because frankly, the businesses who are doing a really good job, they want to tell their customers and their employees they’re doing a good job, and they’re communicating,” he says.

Paul Mederios

“At this point, we’re at about a 95 per cent acceptance rate, which is really good. We were at only about 85 per cent in Michigan but now word is really getting out.”

And for those organizations who wish to take a “longer deeper dive,” also at no charge, the ambassadors can offer a two- to three-hour visit, says Medeiros.

Meanwhile, B.C. recently launched a learning program to train hospitality workers on COVID safety and employers will also have to soon contend with yet another virus in the workplace.

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