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The Ontario Minister of Labour has announced that it will be increasing workplace inspections to ensure employers are operating safely as part of its Stay Safe All Day campaign to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

What sectors will be most affected?

The campaign is said to focus on workplaces in the following sectors:

  • Manufacturing;
  • Warehousing;
  • Distribution centres;
  • Food processing;
  • Publicly accessible workplaces deemed essential, such as grocery stores; and
  • Workplaces with reported COVID-19 outbreaks.

The inspections themselves will focus on high transmission areas (e.g. lunch/break rooms).

Inspections to begin Saturday with Big Box Stores

Beginning January 16 and 17, 2021, ministry inspectors, local bylaw officers and the police will be visiting “big-box” stores in hot-spot areas of the province: Toronto, Hamilton, Peel, York and Durham. 

These inspections will reportedly focus on whether workers and patrons are wearing masks and maintaining a physical distance of at least two metres, as well as following health and safety measures. 

Inspectors will have the ability to ticket supervisors, employees and patrons for failing to comply with COVID-19 safety requirements.  Inspectors will also be able to temporarily close the premises and disperse groups of more than five people. 

Tips for Reducing Exposure to COVID-19 in break rooms

To reduce the spread of COVID-19 in lunch/break rooms, employers should consider implementing, among other things, the following:

  • ensure lunch/break rooms are well ventilated and have properly maintained HVAC systems;
  • determine capacity limits and remove furniture from lunch/break rooms in order to minimize overcrowding (i.e. reduce the number of chairs around a table as necessary to ensure a two-metre distance between workers is maintained);
  • position furniture (e.g. tables and chairs for eating) at least two metres apart to ensure physical distancing;
  • provide visual markers to support physical distancing and traffic flow;
  • stagger eating/break times, if possible;
  • implement frequent and thorough cleaning and disinfecting regimens, particularly for high touch areas;
  • post information/reminders in prominent locations about physical distancing, masking requirements, capacity and time limits in break rooms, proper hand washing/hand sanitizing techniques, etc. (ideally in the language spoken by the workers);
  • put in place clear policies that set limits on the number of workers allowed in the lunch/break room at any one time, set limits on how long workers can be in the lunch/break room, and only allow for mask removal when workers are actually eating and/or drinking;
  • ensure workers have reviewed the above-mentioned policies;
  • ensure workers are trained in physical distancing, mask application and removal, and proper hand washing and hand sanitizing techniques; and
  • be consistent in your messaging by ensuring supervisors remind and, if necessary, discipline workers for not following the policies.

If you are an employer and have questions regarding COVID-19 and workplace safety, please contact any member of Siskinds’ Labour and Employment Group.

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