Safety Swap: Returning to operations during COVID-19

Safety Swap: Returning to operations during COVID-19

​​​​​COVID-19 has disrupted workplaces around the world. Many Manitoba workers were assigned to work at home, or weren’t able Safety Swap to work at all, which affected the operations of many businesses. In the summer of 2020, many of these workers began to return to the workplace for the first time since the pandemic started. However, this is not business as usual: a safe return requires a strategic and guided approach that keeps workers and customers safe. 

This Safety Swap talks about how your committee can support your workplace’s safe return to operations.​​​

Information to kick start your safety and health committee meetings! 

1. Is there any general guidance that workplaces should follow for a safe return to operations?

It is important to follow the guidance provided by Manitoba Health: Workplace Guidance for Business Owners. They have provided a list of items that workplaces should consider as they return to operations. It includes several infection prevention and control measures, including strict guidelines for physical distancing, the number of workers in a workplace at one time and disinfection procedures.

2. Where can I find industry-specific information about returning to operations?

Industry guidelines related to preventing the spread of COVID-19 can be found on Manitoba Health's website (Guidance for Industry Sectors), or your association or industry-based safety program's (IBSP) website. Contact your association or IBSP to find out more. You can also find a link to resources in SAFE Work Manitoba's COVID-19 toolkit.

3. Do we need to do a risk assessment when returning to operations?

Yes, your employer should conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment to determine which risk management  actions need to be implemented in your workplace. Your safety and health committee or representative should be a part of this process. You can ask questions and bring forward ideas and concerns that workers or the committee have identified related to COVID-19 prevention. Following the risk assessment, your committee or representative should participate in the development and review of your infection prevention and control plan, to make sure it addresses the risks identified in the assessment. This is also an opportunity to review and revise other internal policies and procedures to ensure they include measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

4. What are some control measures we should use to help prevent the spread of COVID-19?

You should put measures into place to reduce or eliminate risks that apply to your workplace. Use your COVID-19 risk assessment to help you do this, and the workplace guidance for business owners from Manitoba Health. Using the hierarchy of controls, those actions may include (but are not limited to):
  • Hazard elimination: working from home, holding virtual meetings and closing public areas

  • Engineering controls: using plexiglass shields or sneeze guards between workers and/or customers

  • Administrative controls: changing work practices such as requiring one-way traffic throughout the workplace, using new disinfection procedures, using floor markers to ensure workers and customers maintain a two-metre distance from each other, posting signage about infection prevention, and modifying shift start and end times to prevent workers from arriving or leaving in large groups

  • Personal protective equipment: using masks and gloves if required by your risk assessment

Check out SAFE Work Manitoba's Safety Swap: Preventing the spread of COVID-19 for some additional prevention measures that may be helpful at your workplace.

5. Once we are back at work, what else can our committee do to ensure our workplace is safe during COVID-19?

Your committee or representative should:
  • ensure they fully understand the infection prevention and control plan​ your employer has put into place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — remember that committees and representatives should participate in developing and implementing your workplace's plan​

  • answer questions from workers about the plan

  • act as a good example by encouraging staff to follow the plan

  • continue to act as a voice for workers, and bring forward concerns to your employer

  • gather and provide feedback to your employer about COVID-19 prevention in the workplace

  • participate in inspections and investigations related to COVID-19 in the workplace

  • continue to consider workers' mental health, and ensure you can direct workers to appropriate mental health supports

  • continue to encourage co-workers to prevent infection by:

    • washing their hands often with soap and water, or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol) if their hands are not visibly soiled

    • coughing or sneezing into their elbow or a tissue

    • keeping a physical distance of at least two metres (six feet) from other people, except during brief exchanges

    • staying home when sick.

Top Tips:

  1. Stay informed on the latest COVID-19 updates in Manitoba: Always ensure you are sharing up-to-date, credible information about COVID-19.

  2. Ensure your committee or representative is included in the return to operations process.

  3. Follow Manitoba Health's workplace guidance for business owners.

  4. Practice good hand hygiene, cough etiquette and social (physical) distancing strategies.

​Additional Resources:

SAFE Work Manitoba COVID-19 toolkit​

Manitoba Health COVID-19 information

Manitoba Health Workplace Guidance for Business Owners​

Manitoba Health Guidance for Industry Sectors​

Government of Canada COVID-19 risk assessment​

Additional source consulted: BCGEU: JOHS committees must continue meeting during COVID-19 pandemic  

​Share your ideas!

Share your ideas! If you would like to share your best practices with other safety and health committee leaders, we'd like to hear from you. Your idea might be featured in an upcoming issue of Safety Swap! Email for more information.​
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