BC’s Restart Plan - Information for Employers

By Randy Kaardal, Paul Heisler and Caitlin Ehman

On May 6, 2020 Premier John Horgan announced the British Columbia “Restart Plan” to facilitate the lifting of restrictions in phases to minimize the risk to public health. It is predicated on a move to 60% of normal social contacts for the coming 12 to 18 months while a vaccine is hopefully developed and deployed.

What do Employers Need to Know?

We are currently in Phase 1, where essential services have remained operating. Starting in mid-May, we will enter Phase 2, and many workplaces will be able to reopen under enhanced protocols. These include retail stores, salons, restaurants, and offices. Some workplaces, such as hotels or the film industry, will not be reopening in mid-May, and will have to wait to reopen in Phase 3 under enhanced protocols if transmission rates remain low or in decline, approximately June to September. The start of Phase 4, which includes large gatherings (conventions, professional sports, and concerts), casinos, nightclubs, and international tourism, is as of yet undated, but would be conditional on wide vaccination, community immunity, or broad successful treatments.

Workplaces that were not required to close by an order of the Provincial Health Officer that are included in Phase 2 may therefore reopen with enhanced protocols in place starting in mid-May. In some cases, workplaces will require the Provincial Health Officer to lift or modify an existing order before reopening (see the list of current orders here).

What “enhanced protocols” are required upon reopening will be specific to each employer and each workplace. Employers will need to do the following:

  1. assess the risk of virus transmission in their workplace;
  2. develop an explicit safety plan for the enhanced protocols that will be in place over the next 12-18 months to reduce the risk of exposure;
  3. develop policies to underlie and facilitate their safety plan;
  4. develop communication plans and training; and
  5. monitor the workplace and update their safety plan as needed.

These steps are addressed in more detail below.

  1. Assessing the Risk of Virus Transmission in the Workplace

    What enhanced protocols are required in a particular workplace depends on the specific transmission risks the virus poses in that workplace.

    Since coronavirus is transmitted through liquid droplets when one person coughs, sneezes, or speaks in close proximity to another, it can be spread in the workplace through an employee breathing in the droplets or by an employee touching a contaminated surface and then touching their face. Transmission is more likely when two employees are within two metres of each other, particularly when they are indoors. Transmission is also enabled by contamination of frequently touched areas in the workplace, such as door handles. The virus can be transmitted by an employee in the workplace up to two days prior to them experiencing any coronavirus symptoms.

    Keeping in mind how the virus is transmitted, employers are required to assess the risk of transmission in their workplaces. Employers must involve frontline workers, supervisors, and joint health and safety committees and/or worker representatives in this assessment. This assessment starts with the interaction of two factors:

    1. What is the contact intensity in your workplace – is contact close or distant, and is the duration brief or prolonged?
    2. What is the number of contacts in your workplace – what is the number of people present at the same time?

    Covid-19 number of contacts graphic


    Employers should also consider the following to identify potential risks:

    • places where people congregate, such as break rooms, production lines, or meeting rooms;
    • job tasks or processes that require workers to come into close proximity with each other or customers;
    • materials exchanged, such as money or paperwork;
    • tools, machinery, and equipment people come into contact with during the workday; and
    • surfaces that are touched often, such as doorknobs, light switches, and shared tools.

    Where contact intensity and number of contacts indicate that the risk of transmission is medium or high, the risk can be decreased through the following modifications or controls:

    • reducing the density of people (physical distancing);
    • engineering controls like erecting plexiglass barriers or a one-way system for customer flow;
    • administrative controls like providing clear rules and guidelines for employees; and
    • requiring personal protective equipment like the use of non-medical masks.

    Employers must assess the risk of transmission in their workplaces and determine if the risk can be decreased through the use of the above modifications or controls.

  2. Develop an Explicit Safety Plan for Enhanced Protocols

    After assessing the risk of transmission and how that risk can be decreased through the use of modifications or controls, employers are required to develop an explicit safety plan that implements those modifications that they are able to maintain over the next 12-18 months. This safety plan will become the “new normal” in terms of formal and required actions until the Provincial Health Officer lifts the public emergency requirements. WorkSafeBC will not be reviewing or approving individual employers’ safety plans, but will ask employers during an inspection about the steps taken to protect their employers.

    In developing their safety plans, employers are required to apply a series of core measures in the following personal, social, and organizational categories:

    1. Core Personal Measures – employers must actively promote and monitor the personal self care actions taken by employees, including:

      • no handshaking,
      • frequent handwashing with soap and water, the use of hand sanitizer, avoiding touching one’s face, respiratory etiquette for coughing and sneezing, and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces;
      • physical distancing as much as possible and using non-medical masks;
      • staying home with any cold or flu symptoms, including those of Covid-19, and encouraging customers to do the same with highly visible signage and verbal prompts if required; and
      • considering extra precautions if at increased risk due to age or underlying medical conditions.
    2. Core Social Interaction Measures – employers must actively promote and implement the following:

      • limiting small groups to only 2-6 people who are maintaining reasonable physical distance;
      • ensuring social settings like kitchens and staff rooms maintain best social distancing practices; and
      • ensuring increased cleaning throughout the day.
    3. Core Organizational Practices – employers must consider the following measures for the workplace:

      • providing adequate and accessible hand-washing facilities on site;
      • implementing a cleaning protocol for all common areas and surfaces, including washrooms, equipment, tools, common tables, desks, light switches, and door handles, and ensuring those engaged in cleaning have adequate training and materials;
      • ensuring frequent cleaning of high touch areas throughout the day and make hand sanitizer available in the workplace;
      • increasing the use of temporary physical barriers like plexiglass where appropriate and practical;
      • accommodating employees and customers who are 65+ or who have underlying medical conditions to a greater extent in regards to workspace, hours of work or shopping, or working from home;
      • reducing the overall number of employees at the workplace by staggering shifts or working hours, implementing work-from-home schedules, rescheduling some work tasks, creating smaller teams, or foregoing in person meetings as much as possible;
      • posting occupancy limits for elevators, washrooms, and break locations to prevent employees from coming too close to one another or customers;
      • implementing measures to ensure employees can maintain a distance of two metres from each other and customers;
      • removing any unnecessary tools or equipment that may elevate the risk of transmission, such as coffee makers and shared utensils and plates; and
      • at retail stores, promoting sensible strategies to promote social distancing and to limit volume of customers in the retail space, such as maintaining a high number of checkouts, increasing shopping hours, encouraging or requiring the wear of non-medical masks, decreasing the use of waiting areas, increasing online shopping and the use of delivery or curbside pickup, erecting physical barriers such as plexiglass, informing customers that they should not shop with any symptoms of cold or flu, including Covid-19, and routine screening or questioning of customers for symptoms checking.

    WorkSafeBC encourages employers to involve their employees as much as possible to ensure their concerns are heard and addressed in the planning stages.

  3. Develop Policies to Underlie and Facilitate the Safety Plan

    Employers should establish the necessary policies to manage the workplace with enhanced protocols for the next 12-18 months. Some policies are required. Employers must implement the following:

    • a clear policy to ensure employees with any cold or flu symptoms, including those of Covid-19, do not come into the workplace;
    • a policy to ensure that any employees with symptoms of Covid-19 self-isolate at home for at least 10 days, that anyone under the direction of the provincial health officer to self-isolate must follow those instructions, and anyone who has arrived from outside of Canada or who is a contact of a confirmed Covid-19 case must self-isolate for 14 days; and
    • sick day policies for the coming 12 months that actively support employees being off sick more often or working at home during an illness.

    In addition, employers should consider the following policies:

    • when employees must wash their hands (e.g., on arriving at work and after handling cash or other materials);
    • prohibiting or limiting visitors;
    • what employees should do when they start to feel ill at work, including who to notify and how to travel home; and
    • safety procedures for employees working alone or at home.
  4. Develop Communication Plans and Training

    Employers must ensure that everyone entering the workplace, including non-employees, knows how to keep themselves safe at the worksite. Employers must therefore ensure that there is sufficient training, signage, and supervision to ensure that employees and visitors know and understand the protocols and policies in place, as appropriate.

  5. Monitor the Workplace and Update the Safety Plan as Needed

    Employers must continuously monitor their workplace for new areas of risk after reopening and take steps to update the policies and procedures when necessary. Employers must ensure that employees have a way of raising health and safety concerns.

    Reopening a workplace may bring other challenges. Employee turnover or time out of the workplace may make training or retraining necessary. Operational changes and restarting machinery may result in new risks in addition to Covid-19 that should be considered,

What if Employees Refuse to Return to Work?

Employees have a right to refuse work that they reasonably believe poses an “undue hazard” according to s 3.12 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, BC Reg 296/97. An undue hazard is an excessive or unwarranted risk of injury or occupational disease above and beyond the potential exposure a general member of the public (G3.12 of the OHS Guidelines).

If an employee refuses to return to work due to the risk of the transmission of coronavirus, the employer must contact WorkSafeBC, and a prevention officer will consult with the employee and the employer to resolve the situation according to the procedure set out in s 3.12.

Where do Employers Find More Information?

Further information on the above can be found in “BC Covid-19 Go-Forward Management Strategy”, “Key Steps to Safely Operating Your Business or Organization and Reducing Covid-19 Transmission”, “COVID-19 and Returning to Safe Operation”, and “Returning to Safe Operation Frequently Asked Questions”.

In the coming weeks, further clarity and guidance will be provided that is specific to key sectors. Each sector will develop and require particular enhanced protocols, and a cross-ministry committee will monitor the process to ensure overall alignment with the Public Health and Safety Guidelines and WorkSafeBC.

WorkSafeBC will work with employers through educational materials, consultation, and workplace inspections to ensure that they restart safely. Current information specific to various industries is available here. The WorkSafeBC guide for employers to prevent exposure to Covid-19 in the workplace, dated March 31, 2020, is here and guidance on what employers should do is here. Employers are required by WorkSafeBC to review these guidelines, best practices, and other WorkSafeBC resources in adapting appropriate Covid-19 safety plans for their workplaces. WorkSafeBC advises that a planning tool will soon be available to assist employers in creating and implementing a safety plan.

If you have any questions, please contact Paul Heisler or Caitlin Ehman.