Workplaces

Please note that these COVID-19 prevention measures apply in addition to usual health and safety measures.

Questions ?

If you have questions concerning COVID and the workplace, send them to the following e-mail address:
workplace-covid.nrbhss@ssss.gouv.qc.ca

 

Measures recommended for a given workplace are complementary and should be applied together whenever possible, taking into account the job tasks. They seek to prevent the transmission of the COVID-19 virus and its variants and, by extension, limit the risk of outbreaks. Their implementation ensure that activities can resume or continue under a safe work environment.

The recommended preventive measures for workers take into account the transmission of COVID-19 by inhalation of organic liquid aerosols (airborne transmission). There is now robust evidence supporting the airborne transmission of many respiratory viruses, including the COVID-19 virus.

Virus-laden aerosols, very tiny particulates of <100 µm (about the diameter of human hair and less) are first generated by an infected individual through expiratory activities such as breathing, talking, coughing and sneezing with dispersion in the air. In contrast to droplets, which are bigger particulates >100 µm, aerosols can linger in air for hours and travel beyond 1 to 2 meters with the air currents, like cigarette smoke. They may be inhaled by somebody else (potential host), causing new infections at both short and long ranges (see figure 1). The risk of contamination is greater in poorly ventilated spaces or crowded areas, as well as when there is prolonged exposure.


 

Airborne transmission of respiratory viruses

 

Source: Wang et al., Science 373, 981 (27 August 2021): https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abd9149

Furthermore, it is currently known that the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted by persons who exhibit symptoms (symptomatic) as well as persons who are infected with the disease but are either presymptomatic or asymptomatic.

Note that all Nunavimmiut in communities with an alert level of orange, orange+ or red should be considered as potentially contagious, regardless of whether or not they present with COVID-19 symptoms and whether or not they are vaccinated.

The best approach to control COVID-19 in the workplace is to layer public health measures with workplace health and safety measures. In this infographic (see figure 2), each slice of cheese (or barrier) acts as a layer of defense against the spread of COVID-19. The «Swiss Cheese» model recognizes that no single measure is perfect at preventing COVID-19: each measure (slice) has imperfections (holes). Where one slice fails, the next slice may succeed in blocking the spread of COVID-19. The more slices (layers of control) put in place, the less likely the holes will be aligned to let the virus through, helping to protect workers and prevent an outbreak.

Layered Approach to Control COVID-19 in the Workplace

The more layers, the stronger is the prevention. Layers include public health measures such as vaccination, respiratory etiquette, hand washing, etc. and workplace health and safety control measures such as remote work, physical distancing, adequate ventilation of indoor areas, wearing of a medical mask or a respirator, etc. (see figure 2 and 3).
 

Workplace Health and Safety Control Measures

Source: https://www.ccohs.ca/covid19/controls-infographic/index.html

Respirators, because they are airtight, provide optimal protection against contamination through inhalation of small particles less than 100 microns. If they are available, respirators are the device of choice particularly for workers interacting indoors with others not wearing a medical mask even beyond 2 meters of distance, regardless of the duration of the interaction. Although there are many models of respirators, the model probably most easily available is the disposable filtering facepiece respirator (FFP) N95 mask. A disposable N95 respirator without an exhalation valve is necessary to provide bi-directional protection (protects the person who wears it and protects others).

PHOTO : REUTERS / NICHOLAS PFOSI

In comparison, a medical mask is not designed to be fitted to one’s face. As such, i.e. because it is not sealed, it is not as effective at preventing contamination by inhalation as is a respirator.

Any mask or respirator must be properly worn, i.e. fully cover the nose, mouth and chin.

The proper wearing of a respirator (N95 or other) must be supervised by a respiratory protection program as stipulated by sections 45 and following of the Regulation respecting occupational health and safety (ROHS, c. S-2.1, r.13). You can refer to the Réseau de santé publique en santé au travail Website:
https://www.santeautravail.qc.ca/web/rspsat/dossiers/protection-respiratoire

Fit test and seal check

To ensure the respirator is properly sealed, workers must undergo a fit test. They will then learn how to wear it appropriately and how to do the seal check each time the respirator is put on. This device must be in direct contact with clean skin and may not be “hindered” by facial or other hair.

According to the CNESST : «If the employer can show that logistical difficulties are preventing them from offering fit tests to workers, the use of RPE by these workers without prior fit tests is a temporary measure while waiting on the fit tests. In this case, the employer must plan fit tests for their staff [...]https://www.cnesst.gouv.qc.ca/en/prevention-and-safety/covid-19/questions-and-answers-covid-19

  • The respirator fit testing procedure is explained in a video (lenght : 12 minutes) produced by U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) available online, in English only: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D38BjgUdL5U
  • Note that, although the procedure is well explained, the viewer needs to be aware that the USA regulation is slightly different than the Quebec one (cf. Regulation respecting occupational health and safety — ROHS, c. S-2.1, r.13).
  • The procedure to properly put on and take off an N95 respirator, including seal check can also be viewed in two short videos, available online, in English only:
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Lenght : 2 minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oU4stQgCtV8 
  • Université du Nebraska. Lenght : 5 minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnXN1OD6VRw

The legal obligations in occupational health and safety, both for the employer and the workers, must be applied in the context of COVID-19. Here is a summary:

Employer

Every employer has the obligation to protect the health and ensure the safety and physical well-being of their workers. The Act respecting occupational health and safety (AOHS) requires every employer to take the necessary measures to achieve this (section 51). To do this, the employer, in particular, must implement methods for the identification, correction and control of risks.

The employer must also inform the workers about the risks related to their work, including those related to COVID-19. The employer must also assure the workers of the appropriate training, supervision and coaching so that everyone has the skills and knowledge required to perform the work assigned to them safely.

Worker

Every worker has the obligation to protect their health, safety or physical well-being, and to ensure that they do not endanger the health, safety or physical well-being of other persons found in the workplace (section 49 of the AOHS). To do this, they must comply with the rules and measures implemented in the context of COVID-19 on the same basis as the other rules applied in the work environment. The workers must also participate in the identification and elimination of risks. If they see risks or have suggestions in this regard, they must inform the health and safety committee (if there is one), their superior or a representative of the employer.

Any worker testing positive for COVID-19 and who believes he or she was contaminated at work should fill out the worker’s claim form. According to a recent decision by the Tribunal Administratif du Travail (TAT), it could also be the employer’s responsibility to accompany the worker in this process. This form is meant for a worker’s application for indemnities pursuant to a workplace accident or occupational disease in accordance with the Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases (C. A-3.001). It is important to be aware that the claim’s eligibility period is six-month to apply to the CNESST, calculated from the moment when a worker has been diagnosed with a professional injury, otherwise there is a risk of refused indemnification.

Signs and posters reiterating the importance of identifying COVID-19 symptoms and practicing the necessary prevention measures (respiratory etiquette, hand hygiene, wearing of a mask and physical distancing) should be set up in strategic areas.

Identification of symptoms and case management:
Washing hands – Simple and effective / Le lavage des mains – Simple et efficace:
Protect the health of others! How to put on a mask / Protégez la santé des autres! Comment mettre un masque
How to Properly Put on and Take off a Disposable Respirator (NIOSH, available in English only):
Guidelines published by the CNESST, INSPQ and Government of Quebec

In the context of the declaration of the State of Emergency, Dr. Marie Rochette, Director of Public Health of the NRBHSS, has the authority to establish various measures in order to protect the Nunavimmiut. Therefore, the guidelines for Southern Quebec from the CNESST (Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail), the INSPQ (Institut national de santé publique du Québec) and the Government of Quebec, do not necessarily correspond to the recommended health measures recommended by the Nunavik Department of Public Health. In fact, these organizations adjust their recommendations according to the epidemiological situation in the regions of Quebec located south of the 55th parallel, which might be different from that in Nunavik.

Airborne transmission of COVID-19 virus
Physical barriers
For other information and instructions from the Nunavik Department of Public Health