British Columbia moved into Step 3 of the BC Restart Plan on July 1, 2021, and one of the main implications for employers is a shift from COVID-19 safety plans to general communicable disease prevention. WorkSafeBC has released its guidance on communicable disease prevention, and employers should be adapting their COVID-19 safety plans to communicable disease prevention with this guidance in mind.
What is communicable disease prevention?
Communicable diseases include any illness such as COVID-19 that starts from an infectious agent and can be transmitted among people. Therefore, communicable disease prevention requires employers to assess the risks that are present in the workplace, create a plan that incorporates the correct measures, and communicate these measures to their employees.
What are the workplace requirements to implement communicable disease prevention?
The workplace requirements for communicable disease prevention are based more generally in section 21 of the Workers Compensation Act (titled “General Duties of Employers”).
Section 21 states that employers must ensure the health and safety of their employees (and any other employee present in the workplace), as well as comply with any applicable orders. This legal obligation now includes taking basic steps to reduce the risk to workers from communicable diseases and implementing additional measures to prevent transmission in times of elevated risk.
Communicable disease prevention requires ongoing measures that must be present at all times as well as additional measures when necessary (subject to Public Health advice) as further described below.
Ongoing measures for communicable disease prevention that employers must implement and communicate to their workers include the following:
Policies to support staff who get sick – workers should not have to work if they are sick with a communicable disease;
Hand-hygiene policies/facilities – basic hand hygiene facilities should be available to all workers, and reminders of hand hygiene should be encouraged;
Cleaning protocols – the workplace must be cleaned regularly;
Ventilation – the workplace must have ventilation that is operating correctly and is maintained; and
Supporting Vaccines – employers must support workers to get vaccinated and be mindful of those who cannot or choose not to.
Employers must monitor and review the guidance published by Public Health and the BC Centre for Disease Control in addition to implementing any advised measures to the extent possible. Additional measures recommended by the provincial health officer should be implemented as advised.
WorkSafe BC has provided a guide to assist employers in developing a communicable disease prevention plan.
For more information on how WorkSafeBC’s guidance on communicable disease prevention could impact you and your business, you may wish to reach out to a BLG Labour & Employment lawyer.
Adapted from a BLG article posted on July 5, 2021, available HERE.
The author would like to thank Maryama Elmi, summer student, for co-authoring this text.
STP ComplianceEHS (STP) provides a variety of single-law and multi-law services, intended to facilitate clients’ understanding of and compliance with requirements. STP has recently published an update to its guide titled Employment Law: Solutions for the Canadian Workplace.
About the author
BLG’s Labour and Employment Group: For employment law advice on workplace legal issues arising from COVID-19, BLG's Labour and Employment team is ready and available to assist with navigating these unprecedented times. BLG has also created a COVID-19 Resource Centre to assist businesses on a variety of topics, including contractual risks, public disclosure requirements, education and criminal law.
Services: Labour & Employment