Top tips to improve workplace health and safety

6 min read
Anastasia Dvorak

According to StatsCan, more than 50% of Canadian companies have lost at least one-fifth of their revenue to COVID-19. As many focus on reopening their doors in the coming weeks, workplace health and safety are paramount.

Related: Keeping employee motivation high in times of stress

The new rules of the workplace

Here is a brief overview of workplace health and safety rules for operating Canadian businesses now. Employers will likely need to follow these safety protocols for some time to make sure COVID-19 doesn’t spring up again.

1. Stay home if you are feeling unwell or self-isolating

We all have an important role when it comes to reducing the spread of COVID-19. It’s important to encourage all employees, including essential workers, to stay home if they are feeling unwell or self-isolating.

If an employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms during their workday, make sure that they get home immediately without taking public transportation.

Workplace Health and Safety Man Wrapped in Blanket
We all need to take protective measures to protect others who are more vulnerable.

According to the Government of Canada guidelines, “if the workplace is continuing to operate, signs should be posted to clearly indicate that no one, not employers, nor employees, nor clients should enter the workplace if they are unwell, are isolating or in quarantine (self-isolating).”

2. Practice proper hygiene

The evidence suggests that transmission occurs through the mouth, nose and eyes. Infection most often follows from touching your face or being in the close presence of someone who is infected for approximately 15 minutes.

This highlights why we keep hearing about the importance of handwashing, since most soaps are sufficient in killing the virus while it’s in contact with our skin.

3. Maintain physical distancing of two meters

It’s also important to follow the physical distancing rule of staying two meters away from another individual, as it helps prevent the spread of COVID-19.

You’ve likely already noticed that many businesses have implemented the social distancing protocol.

In grocery stores, this means:

  • Shopping carts are sanitized before being offered to customers
  • Maximum occupancy has been lowered to allow for space between customers
  • Lineups have been organized to follow a very specific path, with floor stickers indicating the direction of store traffic

These measures have changed grocery shopping drastically — but not all of it has been negative. Although customers may be waiting longer to enter the store, once they’re inside the building, they have the advantage of fewer people around them as well as shorter lineups to the cash register.

The signage along the floor, usually in the form of large stickers, serves as a guideline for proper distancing or may indicate a single direction, limiting the amount of cross contact with others through aisles. Some stores require customers to use a cart to assist with keeping distance from the person ahead or behind them.

Workplace Health and Safety Woman Mopping Floor

Even if you don’t own a grocery store, it’s always a great idea to promote following these guidelines alongside sanitation stations or disposable plastic gloves. When proper distancing strategies are implemented correctly, there will be only minor delays and your customers, staff and management will greatly appreciate it.

When it’s not possible to maintain the physical distance of two meters, employees should wear a non-medical face mask or face covering, unless there is a protective physical barrier installed to protect them.

4. Use non-medical masks

The goal of wearing a non-medical mask is to prevent the spread of infection from the person wearing a mask.

There is no proof that the person wearing a mask is protected from becoming infected.

However, it is not recommended to use a professional respirator such as an N-95 mask outside of healthcare and other essential health-related service settings. This is to ensure an optimum supply for essential healthcare workers.

5. Clean public spaces

Workplace Health and Safety Person Washing Hands

According to recent studies, we know that the virus transmits readily by respiratory droplets and contact. This means that a person could contract a virus through close contact or indirectly, via contaminated surface or object.

For this reason, it’s important to stop sharing:

  • Workstations
  • Electronic devices
  • Equipment
  • Utensils, etc.

If that’s not possible, clean them thoroughly before and after each use.

Focus on cleaning commonly used surfaces such as:

  • Doorknobs
  • Counter spaces
  • Cart handles
  • Operating controls
  • POS (point of sale) machines
  • Public washrooms

Be sure to use the proper procedure and the right type of cleaning equipment. It’s also a good idea to frequently clean staff lunch rooms, change rooms and any other public spaces your employees have access to.

Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly using a proper hand-washing technique, don’t touch your face, nose or mouth, and use a hand sanitizer if it’s not possible to wash your hands immediately.

6. Avoid using cash

Paper money or cash is known to carry a lot of bacteria. According to a 2017 study, an analysis of paper currency from a bank in New York showed it carried not only acne and skin bacteria, but also:

  • DNA from pets
  • Viruses and pathogens
  • Mold
  • Yeast
  • Microbes from mouths
  • Traces of fecal matter

Eighty per cent of one-dollar-bills examined even carried traces of cocaine!

If possible, opt for touch-free forms of payment for the immediate future.

7. Pay attention to mental health

One of the most overlooked factors of the pandemic is how isolation is impacting our mental health. It’s unlikely that workers will show up ready to pick up where they left off.

Many people are coping with elderly family members who have been affected or are worried they may become infected.

Some people may experience difficulty in handling things at home during all the isolation.

Our environments have changed drastically in a short period of time, so it is important to consider the health of your employees and those we will be in contact with. Keeping things as positive as possible helps tremendously in a stressful business environment. Letting both your staff and other contacts know that you care will go a long way in alleviating their stress.

Depending on your operation, offering support services such as counselling or other helpful programs can greatly help those who need extra attention in getting through these trying times.

Workplace health and safety has changed

As we slowly start reopening businesses and services, we will all have to look at what we can do to ensure people feel safe and comfortable. It’s a good idea to research what others are doing in your industry.

Many experts have indicated the chances are high for a second wave, so expect these precautionary steps to stick around for awhile. Once we have more data and statistics have indicated that it’s fine to relax some of these preventative measures, you can revisit your workplace health and safety plan.