Control measures in the workplace in the context of the appearance of variants under increased surveillance
The CNESST provides several tools to support workplaces during COVID-19. The proposed measures are based on the principle of a hierarchy of controls.
Given the threat of COVID-19 variants, which are potentially more virulent and pose a greater risk of transmission, it is necessary to further reduce this risk and require workers to wear a medical mask or a BNQ-certified mask indoors in the workplace at all times as an additional protective measure. For outdoor work, a mask must be worn at all times if interactions with co-workers within 2 metres are unavoidable.
These requirements will be adapted based on the epidemiological situation and the control of transmission and will end once the third wave of COVID-19 has been overcome.
The prevalence of new variants is worrying and workplaces are asked to exercise the utmost caution. Wearing a medical mask at all times reduces the presence of the virus in the work environment and ensures that activities in workplaces are carried out in the safest and healthiest conditions possible in the current context.
A new section is added to the Guide to Occupational Health Standards - COVID-19 as well as to sector guides, where applicable. The new section is entitled “Use of a medical mask at all times in the context of the appearance of variants”. Note that it also replaces any reference to the use of a medical mask in the “Physical distancing” section of these guides. The new section does not replace all the preventive measures already set out in the different guides. These are maintained and must be put in place.
Use of a medical mask at all times in the context of the appearance of variants
- A medical mask or a BNQ-certified mask must be worn indoors in the workplace at all times as an additional protective measure. For outdoor work, a mask must be worn at all times if interactions with co-workers within 2 metres are unavoidable.
- A person does not have to wear a mask at all times if they work alone in a booth or a closed room (e.g., an office with walls and a door, a truck, a cab interior) and when they are eating and drinking (for example, during meals and breaks). A person is not required to wear their mask at all times in the following situations:
- for health reasons (for example, a severe facial skin condition) or for safety reasons (for example, fog obstructing vision when driving a vehicle or operating machinery)
- if it interferes with communication (for example, the audiovisual or information production sector, news presentations or press conferences), understanding or learning (for example, when teaching)
- if it prevents the person from performing work-related tasks (e.g., a singer or wind instrument musician)
The CNESST may request a risk assessment and analysis. As part of this analysis, in addition to the rigorous application of the control measures already recommended, additional mandatory criteria will have to be taken into account, such as:
- physical distancing of more than 2 metres
- the restriction of times when masks are not worn
- the optimization of natural or mechanical ventilation, as appropriate
Workplaces where there is an outbreak of COVID-19 are required to comply with the measures recommended by the public health authorities.
Choice of protective equipment à
The choice of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for the task depends on a number of factors. In general, when workers have to interact with other people (customers, coworkers, etc.), they must wear a mask that is recognized as effective and protective eyewear (safety goggles or visor that covers the face down to the chin). Masks that are recognized as effective are medical (procedure) masks, BNQ-certified masks and respiratory protective equipment (RPE).
In some situations, other types of PPE use may be considered. Therefore:
- if there are no customers, workers may wear only a mask that is recognized as effective (without protective eyewear) provided that ALL workers are wearing a mask that is recognized as effective. However, protective eyewear remains mandatory for interactions within 2 metres without a physical barrier with customers wearing a face covering as well as in situations where there are other risks to the eyes
- if environmental conditions cause protective eyewear to fog up when a mask that is recognized as effective is worn (despite attempting to find solutions to remedy this), workers may wear only a mask that is recognized as effective
- a visor alone does not provide sufficient protection. However, where a rigorous risk analysis shows that wearing a mask poses a risk to the worker’s health or safety, wearing a visor alone that covers the face down to the chin may be an exceptional solution that can be used as a last resort.
When they perform their tasks, workers may have to wear different PPE that is appropriate for the other risks present, such as an N-95 mask or other type of respiratory protective equipment (RPE).
Here is a list of the different types of protective equipment and when each type should be used during the pandemic:
- Medical mask
- This type of protective equipment must be worn indoors by all workers at all times even if the minimum distance of two metres is observed or in the presence of physical barriers.
- Its use is limited to situations requiring protection from droplets.
- Medical masks must comply with standard ASTM F2100 or EN 14683 Type IIR (in French only).
- BNQ-certified mask for workplaces
- This type of protective equipment must be worn indoors by all workers at all times even if the minimum distance of two metres is observed or in the presence of physical barriers. It can be used as a replacement for a medical mask.
- However, it cannot be used when performing tasks where there is contact with people who are symptomatic or suspected of being infected (e.g., moderate or high risk contact).
- Its use is limited to situations requiring protection from droplets. It must be certified by the BNQ (program 1922 900).
- This type of RPE is required in particular for aerosol generating medical procedures (in French only) in suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 as well as in warm and hot zones in health care settings.
- In the context of aerosol generating medical procedures and based on ventilation efficiency (number of air changes per hour), RPE with a higher protective factor may be required.
- It may also be used by workers exposed to contaminants projected in the form of dust or aerosols (e.g. beryllium, silica, lead, etc.) as provided for in section 45 of the Regulation respecting occupational health and safety.
- Other types of respiratory protective equipment (RPE)
- These types of respiratory protective equipment are generally used for tasks where there is a risk of generating airborne contaminants (gas, aerosol, dust) during activities that are not related to the pandemic.
- In some cases, the RPE used also provides protection against the COVID-19 virus (when the purification element has a particulate filter).
- Face covering
- At this time, this type of equipment is not considered PPE within the meaning of the Act respecting occupational health and safety.
- There are no manufacturing standards or quality criteria recognized in Canada that govern the production of face coverings. Consequently, spray resistance, filtration efficiency and breathability vary from face covering to face covering. Therefore, there is no guarantee that this type of equipment protects the worker directly.
- A face covering is a complement to other health measures recommended by the public health authorities. It provides additional community protection within the meaning of public health.
- For more information, consult the INSPQ’s interim recommendations or the IRSST’s Conception du masque barrière de type communautaire (couvre-visage) [Design of the community barrier mask (face covering)].
Finally, in addition to providing PPE, the employer must ensure that it is worn, maintained and stored properly. The employer must also ensure that their workers receive training on how to wear and remove PPE safely and how to maintain the equipment.
Do you have any questions?
COVID-19 Hotline : 1 877 644-4545
To contact a CNESST inspector : 1 844 838-0808, option 1