On May 13, 2020, B.C.’s Ministry of Health and the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (the “BCCDC”) published a report entitled Protecting Workers, Contractors, and Employers Working in the Natural Resource Sector during the COVID-19 Pandemic (the “Report”), which sets out guidance, advice and key resources to help employers prevent the risk and spread of COVID-19 at work sites, and in nearby communities.
The purpose of the Report is to assist employers in developing an operational protocol that supports the implementation of the B.C. Provincial Health Officer’s Order dated July 2, 2020 in respect of industrial camps (the “Order”). The Order pertains to employers with workers in agricultural, aquacultural, forestry and resource sectors and/or who provide accommodation to workers housed in industrial camps or congregate settings such as motels, hotels or tents. “Industrial camps” include within its scope permanent or temporary structures that may be found on mining sites and that are intended to be used as living quarters by employees.
The Order requires employers to:
- Develop a COVID-19 infection prevention and control protocol (the “Protocol”);
- Have the Protocol posted in a prominent place at the accommodation and worksite;
- Maintain high levels of accommodation, worksite and worker hygiene;
- Provide a rapid response for workers who develop COVID-19 symptoms;
- Prohibit workers who develops COVID-19 symptoms from working and ensure such workers self-isolate and have the support needed to do so;
- Appoint a co-ordinator to liaise between the employer and the health officer or Provincial infection prevention and controller officer; and
- Ensure accommodation that is in use and worksites that are in operation are inspected by a health officer or provincial infection and prevention control officer.
The focus of the Report is on smaller-sized industrial camps without on-site medical clinics. The BCCDC released a separate document dated April 23, 2020, which provides guidance for large industrial camps with on-site medical clinics. The Report highlights the following three key guidelines which will support employers and operators of smaller-sized camps when operationalizing the Order.
1. Employers are to conduct a COVID-19 workplace risk assessment for field operations
The Order requires employers develop and implement a Protocol and appoint an infection prevention and control coordinator responsible for oversight of the Protocol’s implementation.
The Report suggests that the Protocol should identify actions that will be taken to reduce the number of social interactions between workers and nearby communities, and introduce increased hygiene and disinfection practises. For instance, if workers need to be isolated, employers are to provide a separate room or tent and washroom facilities wherever possible and should follow the BCCDC’s self-isolation guidance. Employers have a responsibility to provide self isolation, monitoring and care for those workers who become ill. Employers must also ensure the privacy and confidentiality for those seeking healthcare or who may be part of self isolation, contact tracing or outbreak investigation.
2. Employers to provide workers with education on hygiene and equipment cleaning
All workers (contractors, service providers, visitors etc.) are advised to participate in COVID-19 training and education sessions provided by their employer on the first day of work, and on a regular basis during the course of their employment. It is important that training and education are offered in both English and the language best suited for the workers (e.g. French, Punjabi, Spanish). It is also advised that workers and contractors are trained on increased hygiene practices and cleaning. To ensure a high level of hygiene is maintained, employers are to provide a suitable number of handwashing or hand sanitizer stations for the size of the work site and post signage that identifies their location.
Workers will require training on cleaning tools and must be offered assistance to ensure compliance and understanding of handwashing and hygiene. Workers should use their own tools where possible throughout the duration of their employment. Where personal tools are not a possibility, shared tools and equipment must be wiped down and cleaned between uses by different workers with a disinfecting agent such as disposable wipes or a diluted bleach solution. Employers are also required to establish a labelling system to help with organization of specialized equipment.
3. Employers to ensure safe work space, transportation and accommodation
The Order requires employers to ensure that operational worksites and accommodations that are in use undergo inspection by a health officer or provincial infection and prevention officer. Employers are to provide workers with guidance for situations where maintaining physical distancing of 2 meters is difficult. For instance, where physical distancing is difficult, employers may need to install an impervious barrier made of a non-porous material between work stations. If physical barriers cannot be erected on a work site, then workers should wear a clean cloth mask or covering across the nose and mouth (such as a bandana) to minimize the spread of droplets onto common work surfaces.
Employers need to ensure that, at the start of each working day and throughout the day, frequently touched surfaces in vehicles are cleaned and disinfected, and workers travelling in in vehicles must adhere to physical distancing practices wherever possible. It is also important to note that employers who are travelling to or are established near a First Nations community, must connect with regional health authorities to be advised of any current precautions being taken in the region.
Employers are to keep a record of which individuals are working in work pods and should be maintained in the same quarters in cases where workers are communally housed in rental accommodations such as motels. Employers should limit gatherings, decrease crowding and reduce social interactions among workers in accommodation services such as tents, motels or hotels and private accommodation. Meals, working hours and breaks should all be staggered where possible to minimize workers congregating.
In summary, the Report provides guidelines to mining industry employers of smaller-sized industrial camps to assist them with implementing the Order. As noted by the BCCDC, the guidance above is not intended to be comprehensive. Employers are encouraged to conduct their own workplace risk assessment to identify specific risks that arise in their circumstances. Should you require assistance with implementing the guidance above, please contact the authors or any member of the Dentons Mining team.
With contributions from summer student Monika Kolodziej.