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Small business and COVID-19 safety

These protocols provide guidance to employers in small businesses. These employers may also benefit from reviewing protocols developed for office spaces, personal services, restaurants, cafés and pubs, and retail. Employers must also ensure they are abiding by any orders, notices, or guidance issued by the provincial health officer, and the appropriate health authority, that are relevant to their workplace.

For more information from WorkSafeBC, please see:

COVID-19 safety plans

Every employer is required to have a COVID-19 safety plan that assesses the risk of exposure at their workplace and implements measures to keep their workers safe. If a formal plan is not already in place prior to operation, you are expected to develop it while protecting the safety of your workers.

To help you develop your plan, this page provides information and resources on keeping workers safe in industries that have been providing essential services since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. We will continue to update this page, but you can also refer to COVID-19 and returning to safe operation for additional information, including a template for a COVID-19 Safety Plan.

WorkSafeBC will be reviewing plans of individual employers during their inspections of your workplace. Please be reminded that in accordance with the order of the provincial health officer, this plan must be posted at the worksite. During a WorkSafeBC inspection, we will ask employers about the steps they have taken to protect their workers and to see the plan if it has been developed. To learn more, read Inspections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Understanding COVID-19

To prevent workplace exposure to COVID-19, you must first understand the virus and how it spreads. For information about COVID-19, visit the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) website for guidance on topics such as:

Symptoms: The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to other respiratory illnesses including the flu and common cold. They include fever, chills, new or worsening cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, and new muscle aches or headache. Learn more.

How it spreads: Coronavirus is transmitted via larger liquid droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. The virus can enter through these droplets through the eyes, nose or throat if you are in close contact. Learn more.

What to do if you feel sick: If you have COVID-19, or think you might have it, you can follow steps to minimize its spread. Learn more.

Controlling the risk of COVID-19 exposure

Employers must take all necessary precautions to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission and illness to themselves, workers, and others at the workplace. Small businesses may consider some of the following advice or best practices at their worksite to reduce the risk of worker exposure to COVID-19.

Who should come into the workplace

  • Implement policies that reflect the following guidance from the provincial health officer and the BC Centre for Disease Control around self-isolation:
    • Anyone who has had symptoms of COVID-19 in the last 10 days must self-isolate at home; symptoms include fever, chills, new or worsening cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, and new muscle aches or headache.
    • Anyone under the direction of the provincial health officer to self-isolate must follow those instructions.
    • Anyone who has arrived from outside of Canada, or who is a contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case, to self-isolate for 14 days and monitor for symptoms.
  • Prioritize the work that needs to occur at the workplace to help your business operate.

Working from home

Employers may want to consider whether any of their workers can work remotely (i.e., work at home). Should this be practicable, be aware that many health and safety roles, rights, and responsibilities are just as applicable for at-home workers as they are for more traditional workplaces. Learn more about health and safety responsibilities when working from home.

Physical distancing and other preventative measures

  • If practicable, reconfigure the workplace to maintain appropriate distance between workers and customers.
  • Eliminate in-person team meetings or modify them to incorporate technology such as conference calling and online meetings.
  • Limit essential work travel, and eliminate all non-essential work travel.
  • Modify work processes and practices to encourage physical distancing, such as instructing workers to not greet one another or customers by shaking hands.

Cleaning and hygiene

  • Ensure workers are provided with appropriate supplies, such as soap and water, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, nitrile gloves and garbage bags, and sufficient washing facilities.
  • Remind staff of effective personal hygiene practices. Add signage about best practices for personal hygiene for customers who may interact with your workers.
  • Remove shared items where cross-contamination is possible (e.g., shared coffee and water stations and snack bins).
  • Enhance cleaning and disinfecting practices in high contact areas like door and cabinet handles, keyboards, and light switches.
  • Incorporate end-of-shift wipe downs for all shared spaces.

Documentation and training

  • Train your staff on changes you’ve made to work policies, practices, and procedures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and keep records of that training.
  • Ensure that workers can raise safety concerns. This may be through a worker representative in workplaces of 9 to 20 employees, or through a joint health and safety committee for workplaces of more than 20 employees. Employers with fewer than 9 employees must also have a way for workers to raise health and safety concerns at the workplace.

Employment status, work sharing and temporary work

Regardless of whether your employees are full-time, part-time, temporary or participating in the Work-Sharing (WS) program, the Workers Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulation still apply to your workplace. As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure a healthy and safe workplace, including reducing your workers’ risk of contracting and spreading the COVID-19 illness.

  • Before hiring temporary workers you should ensure they are not exhibiting signs of sickness and that they are not in violation of any mandatory self-isolation order either because they are waiting for COVID-19 related test results or because of travel activities. If you are hiring temporary foreign workers, review the Government of Canada’s Guidance for Employers of Temporary Foreign Workers Regarding COVID-19.
  • In addition to your regular new employee orientation, employers need to ensure adequate training is provided with regards to COVID-19 exposure risks and the prevention policies that you have in place.
  • Consider what kind of work records you need to maintain, particularly if your temporary employees are also working elsewhere. You may want to record the details of their other employment to help you assess any possible impact on their work and any steps you may need to take to mitigate potential risk.

Protecting mental health

COVID-19 has impacted businesses, livelihoods, and lifestyles in very challenging ways, particularly small businesses, and workers may be affected by the anxiety, stress, and uncertainty created by the outbreak. It’s important to remember that mental health is just as important as physical health, and employers should take measures to support mental well-being and health. See resources that can assist with maintaining mental health in the workplace during this time.

Resolving concerns about unsafe work

Workers have the right to refuse work if they believe it presents an undue hazard.

An undue hazard is an “unwarranted, inappropriate, excessive, or disproportionate” hazard. For COVID-19, an “undue hazard” would be one where a worker’s job role places them at increased risk of exposure and adequate controls are not in place to protect them from that exposure.

If the matter is not resolved, the worker and the supervisor or employer must contact WorkSafeBC. Once that occurs, a prevention officer will consult with workplace parties to determine whether there is an undue hazard and issue orders if necessary.

For more information, see Occupational Health and Safety Guideline G3.12.

For more information

Note: The information on this page is based on current recommendations and may change. Content from health and safety associations and other parties is also subject to change and WorkSafeBC has not reviewed this material for the purpose of ensuring it is aligned with our guidance. For the latest guidance, visit the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control for health information and see the latest news from the government of British Columbia.

Small Business BC has information and resources available for small businesses, including applications for Canada Emergency Response Benefits (CERB) and the B.C. Business COVID-19 Support Service, which serves as a single point of contact for businesses throughout the province looking for information on resources available during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Government of BC has developed a Business Continuity Planning Checklist to help small businesses prepare staff and operations for potential business disruptions during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Canada Centre of Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has developed a number of resources that can be used by small businesses, including fact sheets and workplace posters outlining effective hygiene practices to help reduce the risk of exposure.

If you have a question or concern

Workers and employers with questions or concerns about workplace exposure to COVID-19 can call WorkSafeBC’s Prevention Information Line at 604.276.3100 in the Lower Mainland (toll-free within B.C. at 1.888.621.SAFE). You’ll be able to speak to a prevention officer to get answers to your questions, and if required, a prevention officer will be assigned to assess the health and safety risk at your workplace.