March, 2020 – The COVID-19 outbreak, which began last December, has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The respiratory illness, which is caused by a never-before-seen coronavirus, has spread across the world.
WorkSafeNB is committed to keeping New Brunswickers safe at work. Here are some of the questions you've had for us since the province declared a state of emergency on March 19, 2020.
Due to the volatility of the COVID-19 situation and constantly evolving evidence, the responses provided may need to be updated as new information becomes available. Check back often.
On March 19, 2020 a state of emergency was invoked in New Brunswick on that mandated certain workplaces to close. The declaration and guidance documents can be accessed on GNB’s website: COVID-19 Guidance for Businesses.
Employers who have questions about their responsibilities to comply during the state of emergency should email The Department of Public Safety at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We recommend that workplaces adopt an employee screening process for staff and visitors before they enter the workplace. WorkSafeNB has a sample self-screening tool for employers with recommendations for implementation, along with recommendations workplaces should follow to keep their staff and visitors safe.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) recommends several workplace strategies to improve health and safety during COVID-19. Here is a summary of these workplace strategies:
Employees in New Brunswick have the right to refuse work if they believe it presents an unsafe situation. When this happens, employers need to consider the work refusal on a case-by-case basis, depending on the situation. The same principles apply for managing workplace health and safety and work refusals during a pandemic as they do during normal conditions.
Our website has information on the process to file a right to refuse unsafe work and additional resources.
Under ordinary circumstances an employee is required to be at their workplace to view the work before exercising their right to refuse dangerous work. Given the unique circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic, WorkSafeNB will accept work refusals where the employee has not gone to the worksite. In those cases, the employer must agree to this process. If all parties agree to this new process then the matter will be addressed through phone calls, emails or other remote means.
Note: If your employer requires you to be at the workplace to refuse work you believe to be unsafe and you do not attend, your protection from discriminatory action afforded to you during the work refusal process could be affected and your employer could take job action.
Additional information on the right to refuse unsafe work process is available on our website.
The New Brunswick Department of Public Health (NBDPH) is advising anyone who has been exposed to someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 to self-isolate themselves for 14 days. If the worker subsequently develops symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19, they should isolate and use the Government of New Brunswick’s assessment tool to assess their status and next steps.
Curious about the difference between self-solation and isolation (quarantine)? Visit Health Canada’s webpage, Know the difference : Self-monitoring, self-isolation, and isolation for COVID-19 for more information.
If possible, the JHSC should continue holding meetings either by phone or web conferencing instead. If meeting in person is necessary, the JHSC can reduce the number of people attending the meeting to the strict minimum that is required for quorum, while ensuring representation from both the employer and employees. If your JHSC is unable to conduct meetings by phone or through web conferencing, it would be important to meet in a large enough room where you can keep two metres between people and ensure that the room is well ventilated.
If these suggestions are not feasible during the pandemic situation, you will need to take reasonable measures to keep the JHSC worker reps or at least the worker co-chair informed of the health and safety issues at your workplace. Please note, COVID-19 is a serious health and safety issue and thus, the JHSC has an important role to play to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
First, your employer needs to determine if they can continue to legally operate under the state of emergency imposed by the Province. If yes, the Occupational Health and Safety Act requires your employer to take every reasonable precaution to ensure the health and safety of their employees. Since COVID-19 is a serious health and safety issue, employers must put measures in place to protect their employees.
Additionally, under the state of emergency the employer must identify critical functions and reduce staffing to minimal levels. They must also take every reasonable step to prevent persons with symptoms of COVID-19 or having travelled internationally in the previous 14 days from entering the workplace.
Though it is advisable that the employer consult with the JHSC to put a plan into place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, the employer may not always be able promptly execute needed preventive measures.
Do not go to work if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms such as a fever, aches, pains and coughing. If your symptoms are consistent with COVID-19 symptoms, which include a persistent cough, fever or difficulty breathing, please refer to the Government of New Brunswick’s assessment tool to assess their status and next steps.
WorkSafeNB does not determine which workplaces are deemed essential and which ones are not. To find out if your workplace is deemed essential, please consult the Government of New Brunswick’s website.
WorkSafeNB does not determine who is an essential worker and who is not. Your manager or employer will make that determination.