As part of his plan to ease lockdown restrictions, the Premier of Québec announced on April 28th the upcoming reopening of three important sectors of the economy: retail, manufacturing and construction.
Businesses will be required to implement preventive measures for their employees and customers in order to ensure that their activities can resume in the safest and healthiest possible conditions during the current pandemic. These measures must comply with the health rules developed by public health authorities and the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (the "CNESST").
Under the Act respecting occupational health and safety, employers must take "the necessary measures to protect the health and ensure the safety and physical well-being of [their] worker[s]".
The CNESST  prepared a generic guide to help employers fulfill their legal obligations in terms of occupational health and safety. In addition to this guide, the organization has also prepared toolkits for the manufacturing sector, retail sector and mining industry, as well as a guide specifically geared towards the construction sector.
Here are some of the key preventive measures recommended by government authorities to minimize the spread of the virus in the workplace as employees return to work after several weeks of lockdown.
Implement procedures to identify and exclude symptomatic workers from the workplace
In order to identify employees who may be contaminated, employers should ask employees each day to fill out a questionnaire on their state of health before allowing them access to the workplace, while ensuring that their answers remain confidential. The CNESST recommends that employers provide a room where any employee presenting symptoms can be isolated.
Introduce internal rules for physical distancing
Employers must ensure that employees are able to maintain a distance of two (2) metres from others in the workplace.
If this is not possible, adaptations should be made to limit the risk of transmission such as:
- Providing personal protective equipment;
- Installing physical barriers;
- Maximizing telework;
- Reorganizing working methods (e.g. favouring small and stable teams, introducing rotations for breaks, reducing the number of workers, not scheduling physical meetings, limiting unnecessary travel, etc.).
Explain the Direction de la santé publique's basic hygiene measures to employees and establish cleaning procedures
Hygiene measures include regular hand washing, regular cleaning of tools and work areas, avoiding sharing items, covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, using disposable tissues, etc. In addition, employers should ensure that washrooms, eating areas and all frequently touched surfaces are cleaned regularly. In this regard, CNESST indicates that it is important for employers to ensure the proper operation and maintenance of ventilation systems.
Offer solutions to counter work-related psychosocial risks
Employers also have a responsibility to reduce psychosocial risk factors that can affect occupational health, since the current COVID-19 pandemic situation is very stressful and can provoke anxiety and distress among many employees. Under the circumstances, employers must keep a watchful eye on the psychological health of their staff. Employers should be particularly sensitive and show understanding for employees who are more psychologically affected by the crisis.
Should employees wear a mask in the workplace?
As previously mentioned, it is the employer's prerogative to determine the measures deemed necessary to protect the health and safety of its workers. It is therefore up to the employer to decide whether wearing masks is essential for employees to perform their duties safely.
The Quebec authorities have issued warnings about the use of masks and gloves on the grounds that they could be harmful because they can give employees a false sense of security. Wearing a mask should therefore be mandatory only when it is impossible to maintain a distance of two metres when performing work. In addition, we recommend that employers provide training to their workers to ensure that they wear their masks properly, thereby minimizing the risk of contamination.
It is important to mention that for all sectors, remote working must be prioritized as much as possible during the pandemic.
Employers who do not respect government guidelines and do not take the necessary measures to ensure a healthy and safe work environment for their workers may have to close their workplace following a visit by a CNESST inspector. The inspector will determine the corrective measures that should be taken so that employers can reopen their facilities. Statements of offence may also be issued to offenders.
Please note that this newsletter does not contain all of the required measures that employers must implement in order to resume their activities and comply with their legal obligations. We strongly suggest that you consult the virtual toolkit prepared by CNESST in conjunction with public health authorities to learn about specific measures for each of the different sectors of activity.
To learn more about the extent of your occupational health and safety obligations following the return to work of your employees after confinement, please contact our Employment and Labour law team.