COVID-19 Workplace Guidelines for BC Public Service Managers & Supervisors
Guidelines to assist ministries creating and maintaining a safe and healthy workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The BC Provincial Health Officer (PHO) declared a provincial health emergency due to the COVID-19 coronavirus in March of 2020. As part of the overall response to COVID-19, the BC Public Service significantly reduced the number of staff in workplaces to help slow transmission. However, the BC Public Service has never stopped operating since the beginning of the pandemic. It has quickly adapted to different ways of working and delivering services. Moreover, several ministries had to maintain staff within workplaces and interacting with the public to provide some essential services which cannot be delivered remotely (e.g. MCFD; SDPR; PSSG etc.).
On May 6, 2020, Premier John Horgan announced the BC Restart Plan, which included phases allowing for the reopening and restarting of various businesses and industries previously restricted or closed due to COVID-19.
These guidelines are to assist ministries make decisions on how to create and maintain a safe and healthy workplace (including interacting with clients outside of the workplace) for the balance of the COVID-19 pandemic. Workplaces play a critically important role in our society and the BC Public Service will endeavour to find the “sweet spot” in ensuring the continued effective/efficient delivery of services to the public, and the health (including mental health), safety and well-being of employees.
While the BC Public Service never stopped operating since the beginning of the pandemic, we will be taking careful steps towards optimized operations in parallel with the reduction of restrictions on social and economic interactions in other sectors. To be clear, we will not be returning to workplace configurations that existed pre-pandemic anytime soon. Rather, we will continue, using the best scientific evidence available, to cautiously move towards better workplace configurations and balancing between working at home and working at the traditional worksite.
This is a complex exercise, requiring an adaptive management approach, in which everyone has a role to play. Ministries are responsible for assessing the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace; and, based on this risk assessment, put in place controls, monitor their effectiveness and adjust them as required. Employees are responsible for following the procedures put in place by ministries and for reporting unsafe conditions to their employer. Employees are also responsible for taking reasonable care to protect their own health and safety and that of others in the workplace. In the current context, this means being responsible for one’s own personal self-care, including frequent hand washing and staying home when sick. It is also important to recognize the crucial role played by unions and employee associations.
Understanding how the virus is transmitted is key to effectively assess the risk and adopt the appropriate mix of procedures to mitigate that risk. The BC Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC) advises that the COVID-19 coronavirus is transmitted via larger liquid droplets generated when a person coughs or sneezes. The virus can enter through the eyes, nose or mouth if you are in close contact, or by droplets from an infected person being picked up on someone’s hands then touching their face. The virus is not known to be airborne (e.g. transmitted through particles floating in the air) and does not enter through the skin. Standard precautions outlined by the PHO will provide protection for public and staff from the transmission of coronavirus.
The BC CDC also advises that most people with COVID-19 recover; however, some people have an increased chance of developing severe illness or complications from COVID-19, including older people and those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and lung disease. We will do our best to address requests from employees who are at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Our collective task is a complex exercise of trying to meet the service objectives of the BC Public Service while optimizing the physical, mental and social health of our workforce.
BC Public Service's Approach - Principles
In order to establish a safe and effective new way of operating, the BC Public Service is committed to upholding the following principles. The BC Public Service will:
- Follow the orders and direction of the PHO and the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General for COVID-19
- Take measures to protect the health and safety of all BC Public Service staff
- Take measures to protect clients from COVID-19 exposure from other clients and ministry staff
- Make decisions using the best science, evidence and policy advice available
- Support ministries in creating new, safe ways to do business
- Involve and educate staff about the procedures and controls that are in place to make workplaces and work processes safe
As we learn more about COVID-19, the effectiveness of governments’ responses, and new innovative ways of working, the BC Public Service will continue to adapt its approach, consistent with these principles, while keeping employees’ and clients’ safety as its top priority.