How to protect our reduced workforce during COVID-19

Proper training for new tasks, ongoing communication, and reviewing health and safety plans are some ways to keep remaining staff safe. 

Photo of woman wearing medical face mask, selling croissants at her bakery store during covid-19 pandemic.

Photo credit: Bulyhin

First off, I send my sympathies and best wishes to everyone sick with COVID-19.

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has spread rapidly, leaving many workers sick and unable to go to work. Let’s look at the effects of so many workers off sick as we start the new year.

LifeLabs closed eleven labs in B.C. (See more in this CBC news story about lab closures.)

Ferry sailings have been cancelled. (See this CTV article about ferry cancellations.)

Mail delivery is delayed because many staff are off work at Canada Post. (See this Global News story about Canada Post staff shortages.)

Protecting our reduced workforce

A number of employers are asking WorkSafeBC for guidance on how to maintain operations and manage workplace health and safety with a reduced number of people at work.

I spoke with Mike Neudorf, a WorkSafeBC manager of Prevention Services, over email. He says, “Re-activating a robust COVID-19 safety plan is one of the most effective ways employers can reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in their workplace and keep workers healthy and able to continue to come into work.” He advises employers to consider what aspects of their business can continue to operate safely with reduced or new staff. “Proper training must be provided for new workers and those doing new tasks while replacing workers who are off sick.”

Here are some additional safety recommendations for the current situation:

  • Be aware of and ensure that workers are not asked to perform work activities that they are not trained or qualified to perform.
  • Consider if your workers are becoming too fatigued or overwhelmed to perform their work tasks safely.
  • Consider whether workers are trained, rested, and properly supervised as they normally would be.
  • Ensure you can still perform daily or routine maintenance or inspections that would reveal health and safety concerns.
  • Listen to concerns from your workers and engage them in the review and implementation of your COVID-19 safety plan.

See WorkSafeBC supporting employers as they update and reactivate COVID-19 safety plans for more information.

Re-activating your COVID-19 safety plan

All these considerations should be reviewed as part of your COVID-19 safety plan. As of January 7, all employers must re-activate their plan. Mike says that if aspects of your business have changed since the last time COVID-19 safety plans were required, the plan should be reviewed and modified as needed. Similarly, if you have hired new workers since the last time these safety plans were required, you’ll need to communicate the details of the plan to those workers.

An updated COVID-19 Safety Plan template is available from WorkSafeBC. It allows for the consideration of elements such as symptom management, rapid testing, and vaccinations. If employers need additional help in reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission at their workplace, they can call WorkSafeBC’s Prevention Information Line at 1-888-621-7233 to speak directly with a prevention officer.

See my post Is my workplace COVID safe? (from May 2021) to see how to assess risk to workers. Listening to workers and observing work premises are the first steps.

Thanks to Mike for sharing his guidance for employers.

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