COVID-19 as a Workplace Hazard

By James McTague

With the July 1, 2021, relaxation of most pandemic associated restrictions many individuals have begun returning to the workplace. In light of these circumstances, the Alberta Government has released an update pertaining to COVID-19 as a workplace hazard from an Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) perspective.

Employers should:

  • take measures to review and update their hazard assessment to reflect the current conditions;
  • protect the health and safety of individuals at or around the work site; and
  • consider hazards related to the COVID-19 virus during their hazard assessment.
Hazards Assessment

The OHS legislation requires employers to protect the health and safety of workers and others at the work site, which includes performing hazard assessments to identify current and potential hazards.

The Government’s release addresses a multitude of potential COVID-19 issues and hazards that should be assessed, including:

  • Public health orders;
  • Active cases or symptomatic workers at the work site;
  • Regional case counts;
  • Number of vaccinated employees;
  • Presence of high risk individuals at the work site;
  • Type and duration of interactions between workers or with the public;
  • Physical distancing considerations;
  • Type of activities performed; and
  • How other hazards and controls may impact COVID-19 controls.
Hazards Controls

Employers must identify and eliminate hazards wherever reasonably possible. Hazards that cannot be eliminated, must be controlled. The Government has provided the following hierarchy of hazard controls:

  • 1st – Engineering Controls – measures to control the hazard at the source, such as: physical barriers, ventilation systems, or vaccinations.
  • 2nd – Administrative Controls – measures to change the way individuals work, such as: training, hygiene practices, physical distancing, cleaning policies, and working arrangements.
  • 3rd – PPE Controls – measures to utilize PPE, such as: face masks/shields, respirators, gloves, and eye protection.
Vaccination

Vaccines are available for all Albertans over the age of 12. Available evidence indicates that vaccination is a highly effective method at preventing illness due to a COVID-19 infection.

Obtaining legal advice is recommended prior to employers asking individuals for proof of vaccination or having mandatory vaccination policies.

Respiratory Protective Equipment

Ministerial Order 2020-32 temporarily allowing the use of respirators that meet international standards as an alternative to N95 respirators will expire August 14, 2021.

Take Away

The Government’s publication highlights how important it is for employers to consider the hazards and issues associated with COVID-19 in the workplace. Employers should conduct a hazard assessment and keep it in their records. If you have any questions about how these circumstances will affect your workplace, please reach out to us.


This post is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this post to be outdated.