BC Public Service COVID-19 Approach - Stage 1: Planning

The BC Public Service has a three-stage process to transition to a new way of operating.

There are six steps to complete the Stage 1 planning process

  1. Determine critical functions and positions
  2. Perform risk assessment
  3. Determine new workplace capacity and other measures
  4. Establish safe client-employee interaction protocols
  5. Implement protocols and safe work procedures
  6. Provide orientation and training


Use the following flowchart to identify critical functions and positions that require employees to be back physically in the workplace.

Review of Work Requiring Direct Interaction With the Public

Figure 1: Review of Work Requiring Direct Interaction With the Public

Key questions:

  • Are there legislative requirements to restart the function?
  • Will the function help create or stimulate economic benefit?
  • Is there a judicial, compliance, enforcement or investigative function that needs to resume?
  • Are there security or privacy issues with having the function done remotely?
  • Is anyone aware of how other jurisdictions are completing this, or similar, functions? 
    • Can you explore these technological issues with subject matter experts?

Engage with staff to review effectiveness of functions being done remotely

  • Is it fully effective and accomplishing the desired outcome? 
  • Does it take too long to perform? 
  • Are you aware of ways to improve the efficiency or effectiveness of a function by using enhanced technology?

After the assessment, you'll have a list of the high-priority functions that require staff to be present in the office. 

  • Review how many staff complete those functions, either in a full- or part-time capacity, to determine the number of full-time equivalent positions. This is defined as “required employees.”

In-person Interaction With the Public

As of May 22, 2020 the B.C. Provincial Health Officer (PHO) asks that only essential travel be completed. Ministries should review travel requests and plans that involve overnight or extended travel with their executive, or establish an approval process.

Review work requiring direct interaction with the public

  • In an office setting
  • Outside of an office
  • Including vehicle use and travel

Determine if work can be completed by physical distancing from clients, general public and staff, and using the other standard COVID-19 transmission controls.

  • If tasks can be completed with the standard control measures and physical distancing, they can resume
  • Staff will need to be trained in the basic COVID-19 precautions

For activities that aren’t normal work duties and require personal protective equipment (procedure/surgical masks, respirators or goggles) for preventing COVID-19 transmission, please submit an AskMyHR service request using the category Myself (or) My Team or Organization > COVID-19.

If work requiring direct interaction with the public can’t be done with only physical distancing

  • The work can resume in Stage 2: Executing, if it doesn’t require the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for preventing COVID-19 transmission
  • Other controls and safe work procedures must be created and will occur during Stage 2: Executing
    • This shouldn’t stop other activities that can maintain physical distancing from continuing or restarting

If the required employee works outside the office, but will be at a workplace/office for part of the time to file reports or do research, they’re counted in the new workplace capacity while they’re attending the workplace.
Coordinate to ensure the new workplace capacity is not exceeded. If necessary, plan the work so staff can rotate through the office.

The following flowchart describes the evaluation process.

Reviewing Functions/Positions for Office Priority

Figure 2: Reviewing Functions/Positions for Office Priority

Understanding how the virus is transmitted is key to effectively assess the risk and adopt the appropriate mitigation strategy, with a combination of measures.

The virus is transmitted via

  • Larger liquid droplets generated when a person coughs or sneezes. It can enter through the eyes, nose or mouth if you are in close contact
  • Droplets from an infected person being picked up on someone’s hands, then touching their face

The virus isn’t known to be airborne and doesn’t enter through the skin.  

WorkSafeBC states

  • All employers must assess the risk of COVID-19 in their workplaces and implement controls and procedures to protect the health and safety of staff
  • Workers have the right to refuse work if they believe it presents an undue hazard. For more information go to Refusing Unsafe Work

This risk assessment will be led by ministries and should involve a member(s) of the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee.

It may require consultation with other parties such as

  • Facilities Management Units
  • Other building tenants

All workplaces should complete the assessment as part of the planning process.

Ministries should use the COVID-19 Workplace Assessment Tool, (DOCX, 2.4MB) to determine

  • The new workplace capacity
  • Interaction measures for shared spaces for all parts of a typical office workspace

Standard precautions outlined by the PHO (Provincial Health Officer) will protect public and staff from the transmission of COVID-19.

Determining the New Workplace Capacity

The new workplace capacity should be based on the COVID-19 Workplace Assessment Tool’s (DOCX, 2.4MB) guided review of office workstations. The assessment of the workplace capacity can be started using your facilities unit’s floorplans, where available, but should always be verified with a walkthrough assessment.

Here is a short description of the process for determining the workplace capacity.

Count the number of workstations that meet the two-metre physical distancing guidelines which include

  • Enclosed offices
  • Cubicles enclosed by three sides
  • Workstations that can be separated by two metres in every direction
  • Workstations fitted with barriers to separate employees

The controls include

  • Employees alternating between the office and home (e.g. rotating staff presence in the office)
  • Re-purposing meeting rooms for workstations using physical distancing guidelines
  • Moving workstations so there is physical distancing
  • Changing the layout of an area with cubicles to use the walls as barriers
  • Putting in plexiglass or other barriers between the workstations

In cases where more staff are required in the workplace than the new capacity allows, the workplace may have to make physical changes to the office, including moving desks or adding barriers between staff to reduce the distance to less than two metres. For example, the use of cubicle dividers as a barrier would allow desks to be closer than two metres since the cubicle divider will stop any droplets from being spread from worker to worker. All options should be explored before asking for physical changes to the workplace that would require moving large amounts of furniture or renovations.

If a workplace requires physical changes such as moving desks or the use of barriers, contact your ministry Facilities Management Unit. After making changes to the office, if the number of required employees is still greater than the workplace capacity, submit an AskMyHR service request using the category Myself (or) My Team or Organization > COVID-19.

When measures are put in place to create enough physically distanced workstations for the required employees, the planning stage continues and looks at areas where staff interact with each other, client spaces, implementation of controls and training and orientation of staff prior to physically returning to the workplace.

Other Measures for Workflow and Shared Spaces

While physically distanced workstations help control the spread of COVID-19, all workplaces have shared equipment, high foot traffic areas and common areas that create close spaces where employees come within two metres of each other.

The PHO has stated that the risk of COVID-19 transmission is low between two people briefly passing less than two metres from each other[1]. Workplaces should limit the cumulative duration of these exposures between workers throughout the workday. It will be impractical to eliminate all less than two-metre interactions. The goal is to try and limit less than two-metre interactions to short duration (e.g. walk past) and infrequent occurrences.

Ministries should conduct a walkthrough using the COVID-19 Workplace Assessment Tool (DOCX, 2.4MB) to minimize close space. The walkthrough helps assess the office’s close spaces, controls and work flow by direct observation of the workplace. The walkthrough should include all areas of the workplace including entrances, exits, attached parking areas, changing rooms and wash rooms.

A worker representative from the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee is welcome to participate in the walkthrough and, where practical, help complete the COVID-19 Assessment Tool.
A representative from the ministry’s Facilities Management team is recommended for consultation, as required, and may wish to participate in complex worksite walkthroughs.

Each person can conduct the walkthrough individually then have an online meeting to discuss the result, or the team can meet in a space that allows physical distancing from each other.

Ministries should use the COVID-19 Workplace Assessment Tool to determine the appropriate mix of measures. The COVID Workplace Assessment Tool doesn't provide an exhaustive list of measures; ministries are free to implement creative controls that work for their location.

Lunch rooms are high-use common areas of workplaces and can present control challenges. Some recommended procedures include:

  • Post a maximum capacity sign
  • Post rules for use, including cleaning responsibilities—you use it, you clean it
  • Remove common cutlery
  • Stagger lunch and break times
  • Allow and encourage employees to eat at their desks where appropriate

Staggering Starts

Initially, in larger buildings it may be necessary for staff to stagger their starting times slightly to ensure good physical distancing practices in lobbies, stairwells and elevators. This should not require more than a 10- to 20-minute variation before or after normal start times. Ministries should contact AskMyHR for assistance in determining if existing hours of work agreements need modifying. Submit a service request using the category Myself (or) My Team or Organization > COVID-19.

First Aid Attendants and Floor Wardens During Stages 2 and 3

As employees return to workplaces the increase in staff may trigger the need for first aid attendants to be on site at all operating hours as was required prior to COVID-19. General office settings that are less than 20 minutes from a hospital will require a level 1 first aid attendant during operating hours if they have 11 or more staff at the workplace. This doesn't include staff who are working remotely.

In some cases, a required employee may be a qualified first aid attendant. If this isn't the case, the workplace may need to have a non-required employee be at the workplace to be the first aid attendant. This person will be counted in the workplace capacity. There can be some flexibility around first aid attendant use and sharing with nearby offices or buildings. For assistance with first aid sharing submit an AskMyHR service request using the category Myself (or) My Team or Organization > COVID-19.

Workplaces should complete the online First Aid Needs Assessment tool to establish their first aid requirements and update their first aid response plan. Providing First Aid During the COVID-19 Heath Emergency (DOCX, 31KB) contains first aid information for managers and first aid attendants during COVID-19.

With the reduced number of staff, wardens may be working remotely. All staff should be aware of evacuation and emergency procedures. One of the required employees should be designated as the floor warden and, if possible, an alternate for each floor in use at the workplace.  

A quick meeting (using physical distancing) should be held to review the building procedures and ensure all staff will evacuate to the meeting place.

[1] A high-risk close contact is defined as a person who “lived with or otherwise had close face to face contact (within 2 metres) with a probable or confirmed case for more than 15 minutes (may be cumulative, i.e., multiple interactions)” Retrieved from BC Center for Disease Controls May 15, 2020

If the workplace has client interactions, ministries should complete the Client Interaction Protocols Assessment in the COVID-19 Workplace Assessment Tool (DOCX, 2.4MB). The goal of the controls is to minimize close spaces as much as possible, but depending on the circumstance, one control may achieve this without needing others. This list and the COVID-19 Workplace Assessment Tool are not an exhaustive list of controls; workplaces are free to implement creative controls that work for their location.

For client service areas, protection of staff from clients using two-metre physical distancing or the use of barriers is already commonplace. However, if workplaces are increasing their client service capacity by adding more staff into client service areas, physical distancing between staff must be maintained or barriers between staff will be required.

Client-employee controls include

  • Posting signs at entrances to remind clients that they should not attend the office or re-book their appointment if they are sick, have a cough, have difficulty breathing or have not completed a 14-day self-isolation after international travel
  • Posting the maximum client capacity at the entrance
  • Limiting the number of people in the lobby and/or client service area. This may be monitored by reception, security guard, etc.
  • Posting signs asking people to reduce the number of people in elevators to maintain physical distancing
  • Posting signs to encourage physical distancing in lobbies and waiting rooms
  • Adding a reminder for clients about physical distancing and to reschedule if they feel unwell when booking in-person meetings
  • Holding virtual or phone meetings wherever possible
  • Setting up meeting rooms with reduced capacity and use the table or chairs to create two metres between participants
  • Rearranging or removing some of the waiting room furniture to allow for physical distancing
  • Using tape to mark out two metres spacing on the floor for line ups and counter service
  • Asking clients if they would reschedule if they appear unwell
  • Asking clients to cover up if they are coughing or sneezing, using their elbow or a tissue
  • Creating the recommended two-metre distance between employees and clients at counters and in interview or meetings rooms

For a list of available signage and other workplace materials, visit the following page: Workplace Materials for Covid-19 Communications

Implementing Controls

The completed COVID Workplace Assessment Tool will list the controls the workplace is required to put in place before the number of required employees at the workplace is increased.

Use the COVID Control Action Log in the COVID-19 Workplace Assessment Tool (DOCX, 2.4MB) to record the controls, expected implementation dates, responsibility for implementation and date of implementation. It’s critical to ensure selected controls are in place prior to staff returning to the workplace.

Many of the controls discussed in Step 3: Determine New Workplace Capacity & Other Measures are practical and safe for the workplace to implement on their own, such as

  • Making signs
  • Placing tape marks or arrows on the floor
  • Moving small light furniture (e.g. chairs or keyboards)

The implementation of these controls should not be slowed because of signage guidelines. Interim signs and markings should be used to speed up the process. In the long term, the Real Property Division Technical Guideline for signs and legislated requirements will need to be met. Public signs should be GCPE approved and, where appropriate, be multi-lingual to help clients and guests understand the COVID prevention measures on site.

Ministries are responsible for ensuring the measures are in place prior to staff returning to the workplace.

The employer (the ministry) is responsible for implementing controls and safe work procedures under the BC Workers Compensation Act. If there’s confusion or disagreement, or there are questions about suggested controls, submit an AskMyHR service request using the category Myself (or) My Team or Organization > COVID-19.

Safe Work Procedures

The office must have written Safe Work Procedures (SWPs) that identify

  • The hazard (COVID-19)
  • How the employees may be exposed
  • What steps are required to control the hazard

Workplaces that aren’t public facing require one set of SWPs that include

  • Discussion of transmission and symptoms of COVID-19
  • Standard precautions to be practiced by all workers
  • Cleaning responsibility for employees – cleaning of their work area or shared workstations
  • Office-specific details that may include:
    • Stairway direction
    • Lunch room rules
    • Elevator rules
    • Orientation and training requirements
    • How to contact the ministry lead and a description of their role

Offices that serve clients, the public or have other activities that have increased risk of COVID-19 exposure must have SWPs for those functions. Examples of activities that require a SWP include:

  • Air travel
  • Client service counters (including public computer/workstations)
  • Handling client-provided documents
  • Hotel stays
  • Vehicle use

The Safe Work Procedures page contains a selection of SWPs for workplaces to implement. For assistance with additional procedures, submit an AskMyHR service request using the category Myself (or) My Team or Organization > COVID-19.

Ministries are responsible for ensuring the COVID-19 related SWPs are modified to fit the workplace and have been reviewed by the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee. All staff must be trained in the SWPs (see Step 6: Provide Orientation and Training), and SWPs must be stored in a location that employees of the workplace can freely access—both in a physical location and online.

Cleaning Guidelines

Ministries are responsible for ensuring cleaning guidelines in the SWPs are met and cleaning supplies are provided. If a person leaves the workplace due to an illness, follow the advice in the BC Public Service COVID-19 Response FAQs (PDF, 316KB).

WorkSafeBC’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulation requires the employer to provide an orientation and training to young or new workers.

Part 3.22 New Worker: any worker returning to a workplace where the hazards in that workplace have changed during the worker's absence.

The employer must provide a Workplace COVID Orientation for employees returning to the workplace. Supervisors must provide the SWPs to required employees for information prior to a staff scheduled orientation and training online or telephone meeting.

Due to staffing changes, the office will likely also have significant changes to its

  • First aid program
  • Emergency wardens
  • Prevention of violence program

Ministries should use the COVID-19 Orientation Checklist (DOCX, 27KB) and review the items on it.

The review should focus on changes to the workplace’s safety protocols including

  • Standard precautions for COVID-19
  • SWPs for COVID-19 that apply to the required employee (may include vehicle travel, client interaction, etc. depending on the role)
  • First aid
  • Emergency response
  • Prevention of Violence Program (where required)
  • Responsibility of the required employee to report to their supervisors controls that aren’t effective or areas where physical distancing isn’t possible

Immediately upon arrival of the required employee to the workplace, the ministry will provide an in-person orientation to the employee interaction controls, such as

  • Washroom rules
  • Lunch room rules
  • Cleaning responsibility, etc.

Record on the Workplace COVID-19 Orientation Checklist (DOCX, 27KB), (or Ministry) form the review of standard precautions and SWPs for COVID-19 on the courses or training section of the form. This document should be kept as a record.