OHS Newsletter: COVID-19 as a workplace hazard
This was taken from the OHS Newsletter July 30, 2021
Alberta is open and restrictions are reduced as of July 1, 2021. As people are returning to the workplace, employers must review and update their hazard assessment to address the changing conditions related to COVID-19.
Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation requires employers to protect the health and safety of workers at the work site and others at, or around, the work site. This includes performing a hazard assessment to identify existing and potential workplace hazards.
The hazard assessment must address the potential for all types of hazards, including those related to the COVID-19 virus. Employers must involve affected workers when doing a hazard assessment.
Factors to consider when assessing the potential hazards from COVID-19 include:
- any orders of the Chief Medical Officer of Health that are applicable to the workplace
- active cases or symptomatic workers at your work site
- active cases in the region
- number of vaccinated workers, if available
- presence of persons with health vulnerabilities
- type and duration of interactions with other workers or the public
- physical distancing at the workplace
- type of work or activities performed
- how other hazards and controls at the work site might affect COVID-19 controls
Employers must address all identified hazards. Eliminate a hazard wherever reasonably possible. When a hazard cannot be eliminated, it must be controlled. There is a hierarchy of controls that must be followed.
First choice: engineering controls. These control a hazard at the source. Depending on the workplace and processes, examples might include ventilation systems or physical barriers. Vaccinations are also considered to be an engineering control.
Second choice: administrative controls. These change the way people work. Examples include worker training or hand hygiene, physical distancing, alternate work arrangements or regular workplace cleaning policies.
Third choice: personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE controls the hazard at the worker. PPE examples include gloves, eye protection, facemasks or respirators.
If the hazard cannot be controlled by a single control method, the employer must use a combination of engineering, administrative and personal protective
equipment to ensure worker protection.
Vaccination is an effective control to protect against the COVID-19 virus. The roll out of vaccines provides workers and all Albertans over age 12 an opportunity to be immunized. Current evidence indicates vaccines are effective in preventing illness due to a COVID-19 infection.
Employers should consider seeking legal advice on issues and laws relating to human rights, labour and employment, privacy, health information and occupational health and safety before asking for proof of vaccination or implementing mandatory vaccine requirements.
Respiratory protective equipment: Ministerial Order 2020-32 expires soon
During the COVID-19 public health emergency, Ministerial Order 2020-32 was established to temporarily allow the use of respirators meeting international standards as alternatives to N95 respirators. This order will expire on August 14, 2021.
See Part 18 of the OHS Code to learn about requirements for respiratory protective equipment use on work sites.
For more information
Employer’s toolkit for vaccination
Hazard assessment and control: a handbook for Alberta employers and workers
Occupational health and safety guidance for workers: respiratory viruses
Psychological hazards: returning to the workplace
Public health measures in effect
Respiratory viruses and the workplace
Worker deconditioning following an absence from the