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How COVID-19 workplace risk advice has evolved


November 26, 2020   by Greg Meckbach


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As the pandemic enters its ninth month, risk managers are seeing more emphasis on the length of conversations and the importance of wearing proper masks.

“The key thing now is the length of contact with somebody else. Right now, if two people are next to each other talking for five minutes or longer, they should be wearing masks,” said Robin Daddar, vice president and senior consultant, fleet, safety, health and environment and risk control services at Aon Canada.

“In March through May, the emphasis was on hand cleaning and avoiding physical contact,” said Daddar. “We stopped shaking hands, we started disinfecting everything, reducing contact and that kind of stuff.”

Now Daddar says the use of masks must be part of the COVID-19 safety program.

“Over time we have learned, through experiments, that the main route of transmission is airborne droplets, not physical contact — things like coughing and sneezing and even simple conversation between people can spread the virus — hence the issue of indoor contact, especially in areas of poor ventilation.”

COVID-19 was declared a pandemic March 11, 2020 by the World Health Organization. In Canada, provincial laws require employers to provide a safe workplace, and it’s not enough to simply disinfect the workplace and keep it clean, Daddar advised.

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“In general, if you are having a very short conversation and you are not wearing masks you are usually okay,” he said. “But what we recommend to our clients is if you are in the office, you have got to wear a mask going into the office and when going around.”

Masks protect both the wearer from others and others from the wearer, Daddar noted. “Guidance that came out recently said masks have to be at least three layers thick to provide adequate protection,” he added.

“When you are sitting down in your workspace and you are staying at your desk, you can take your mask off. If a visitor or co-worker comes to talk to about something, if it is going to be a long conversation, you both have to put your masks on. If you go to the washroom, if you go to get a cup of coffee, or you go to have your lunch, you have to put your mask on.”

At the moment, COVID-19 vaccines are not yet available. However, AstraZeneca became the third pharmaceutical company this month to announce promising results from a late-stage coronavirus vaccine clinical trial, The Canadian Press reported. AstraZeneca joins Pfizer and Moderna as the leading candidates for developing an effective prevention for COVID-19.

And community transmission of COVID-19 continues to increase in Canada. Ontario, recorded 1,478 new cases Thursday and 21 more deaths, CP reports. Two weeks ago, provincial health advisers predicted there could be as many as 6,500 new daily infections by mid-December if nothing was done to limit the spread of the virus.

In Alberta, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced 1,265 new cases Wednesday, with 355 people in hospital, including 71 in intensive care. That came one day after the province declared a state of public health emergency. Calgary announced its own local state of emergency on Wednesday.  The Canadian Press quoted Hinshaw as saying health officials are now working on moving and reassigning patients to free up more ICU beds for COVID-19 cases as needed.

Alberta’s new health rules include a province-wide ban on indoor extended gatherings, even in people’s homes — as well as restrictions on bars, restaurants and pubs, retailers, casinos, movie houses, hair salons, schools, places of worship and other businesses, which have been allowed to stay open.

Canada as a whole saw 5,022 new cases of COVID-19 infections on Nov. 25, with 92 deaths.

“The steep rises in cases we are seeing now in Ontario and other provinces is due to what happened at Thanksgiving a few weeks ago,” Aon Canada’s Daddar told Canadian Underwriter.

“If we don’t fix this right now, Christmas, which is just six weeks away, is going to be for immediate families only,” he added. “If we control this right now, things could start opening up in a few weeks and we could have a proper family Christmas.”

 

Feature image by iStock.com/nito100