Health and safety and the right to refuse

Health and safety during COVID-19

We are facing an unprecedented time with the COVID-19 pandemic. Extreme measures are being implemented in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Public health agencies are monitoring the outbreak and are regularly updating guidance as to how individuals should respond.

USW encourages members to stay current with the latest information from their local health authority and follow their most current guidelines. Our primary concern is for the health and safety of our members, their families and our communities.

We need to approach the pandemic by using all the tools we normally use to address health and safety concerns. We apply the “precautionary principle,” where we evaluate risks and hazards.

The best advice to follow is that coming from the Government of Canada through the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC):

Be aware of increased risks of more severe outcomes for Canadians such as:

  • People aged 65 and over.
  • Those with compromised immune systems.
  • Those with underlying medical conditions.

It is vital to avoid any crowds at all and any-size gatherings when feasible. It is important to maintain “physical distancing” (keeping a distance of two metres; or six feet) whenever possible. And of course, vigilant hand washing and other hygiene practices should be followed.

All non-essential travel out of the country is restricted.

If you have returned to Canada from outside the country, you are required to self-isolate for 14 days. Whenever there has been even a slight chance of someone coming in contact with the virus, they must self-isolate for a minimum of 14 days. This can include returning from out of the country, being in direct contact with someone returning from out of the country or being in direct contact with someone displaying symptoms of COVID-19 (even in the absence of a diagnosis).

Be aware that your employer will require you to self-isolate under these conditions even if you don’t feel ill yourself.

While we are focused on our physical health during the pandemic, it is equally important to keep a check on our mental well-being. Fear and anxiety are normal responses to the current situation. There is a lot of disruption and uncertainty. Accept that there are things that are beyond our control right now. Instead, focus on what you can control, which is really a lot. Any of the many national, provincial or local mental health organizations (e.g., CAMHCMHA) have an abundance of useful information on their websites.

Mental health practitioners suggest a number of things to guide you through these times:

  • Limit the amount of time you consume media information on COVID-19. Stay informed but don’t fall into the trap of needing to be constantly absorbing the multitude of (repeated and sensationalized) media coverage.
  • Those with pre-existing mental health conditions are at risk of an exacerbation of symptoms due to increased stress. If you or someone you know is experiencing issues, most mental health providers will be able to assist remotely in non-crisis situations. Because people with addiction issues are at risk of recurrence, many organizations such as AA will institute online meetings.
  • While physical distancing (or even social isolation) will be required, this does not mean we need to cease social contact. With the many social media platforms available, there is no need to stop a lot of the activities we normally do; we just need to do them virtually. Start an online book club, gaming group or video watch party. The possibilities are endless.
  • Maintain routines as much as possible. Continue to walk the dog, do family activities that are still possible, and most importantly, maintain any physical activities that can be done. There is a well-established link between physical and mental well-being. If you can’t do your normal exercise routine (such as going to the gym), try to find other things that can give you comparable results.
  • Get outside in nature. You can go for a walk and get some fresh air and sunshine while maintaining your physical distancing.
  • Think about helping out some of the more vulnerable people in your community. If you are still able to go out and pick up groceries, consider asking a neighbour who can’t go out if they need anything. Exercising compassion can do wonders for everyone’s well-being.

More resources on our website: Equity in Hard Times

  • Follow the latest updates from your local health authority.
  • Practise good handwashing hygiene and etiquette around sneezing and coughing.
  • Maintain physical distancing (a distance of two metres; six feet).
  • Immediately initiate self-isolation if you start to display symptoms or come into contact with someone who has. If you have persistent symptoms, it is important that you maintain self-isolation and immediately contact your health care professional or local health centre. They will be able to tell you what steps you need to take.
  • Tend to your physical and mental health.

Should you have any concerns at your workplace, do not hesitate to bring them up to your employer and your union safety representative or other union official.


The Right to Refuse

OHS Legislation in Canada – Right to Refuse

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Ontario Directive 5 for workers in health care and long-term care

New Directive #5 rules

(As of October 14, 2020

“Directive 5” is the government’s rules about COVID-19 and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health care staff that hospitals and long-term care homes must follow. Unions have recently sued the government to force it to increase the protections for workers. To resolve this court action, the government agreed to make changes to Directive 5. These changes mean that hospitals and long-term care homes will have to give workers clearer access to better protections when they are dealing with patients or residents who may have COVID-19.

These are the rules under the new Directive 5:

Workers at hospitals and long-term care homes who are interacting with suspected or confirmed COVID patients/residents always have to be given, at a minimum, the following PPE regardless of distance from the patient/resident:

  • Surgical/procedure masks
  • Gloves
  • Face shields or goggles
  • Appropriate isolation gowns

In long-term care homes, workers have to wear surgical masks at all times during a shift, except when on a break or when they are not in contact with residents.

Workers also have the right to an N-95 respirator in three situations:

  1. When the workplace is in an “outbreak” and you are within two meters of a COVID patient. When a hospital or a long-term care home has an outbreak of COVID-19, workers who may come within two metres (or six-and-a-half feet) of a known or suspected COVID-19 patient/resident have a right to an N-95 respirator.
  2. You have to ask your employer for an N-95 respirator, but they must give it to you. Ask for an N-95 mask any time you are doing work and cannot be sure that you will be able to stay more than two metres away from a COVID-19 patient or resident.

    Whether or not your workplace is in an “outbreak” of COVID-19 is decided by the local medical officer of health, not your employer.

    For hospitals, an outbreak is usually when two people contract COVID-19 while at the hospital within two weeks of each other.

    For long-term care homes, an outbreak is usually when one staff person or resident has a positive COVID-19 test. This may change to two cases in the near future.
  3. When a regulated health professional (e.g., an RPN) decides an N-95 is needed. Every time a doctor, RN, RPN or other regulated health care professional interacts with a known or suspected COVID-19 patient or resident, they have to conduct a point-of-care risk assessment (PCRA) to decide if they need to wear an N-95 respirator.

    If a regulated health-care professional decides that an N-95 respirator is required when interacting with a COVID-19 patient, then the hospital or long-term care home has to give an N-95 respirator to that worker and every other worker who is present for that patient interaction and this cannot be denied by the employer.
  4. When certain kinds of medical procedures are done on a COVID-19 patient. All workers in any room where an “Aerosol Generating Medical Procedure” (also called an AGMP) is being done, or is probable to be done, on a COVID-19 patient must wear an N-95 respirator.

    You also have to wear an N-95 respirator if you are in a room where AGMPs are frequently done, even if they are not doing an AGMP at the time you are in the room.

    There are many different kinds of AGMPs. If you are in a room when an AGMP is being done, you should be told that this is happening. You can always ask if an AGMP is being performed if you are not sure.