On April 23, 2020, the Saskatchewan government released details about its current five phase plan to re-open the Saskatchewan economy. The plan provides guidelines for a variety of different industries and the restrictions that will remain in place even as additional businesses are permitted to operate.
Saskatchewan employers will have many issues to address as the government’s plan is implemented or modified. This blog highlights certain issues related to personal protective equipment (PPE) that employers will need to consider in order to meet the safety requirements contained in the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan.
Employer’s obligation to provide PPE
Businesses resuming operations may have an obligation to provide PPE as part of their workplace occupational health and safety (“OHS”) obligations, depending on the nature of the business and the services provided. PPE is more likely to be required in situations where it is not possible to maintain two-metre distancing.
If PPE is required, there must be protocols for donning and doffing the equipment, as well as instructions for disposing of it. Employers who have created policies to address COVID-19 are encouraged to re-examine their policies to ensure that valuable PPE resources are not diverted from the health-care system.
What is the appropriate PPE?
The type of PPE required will vary depending on the workplace and services provided. Employers should consult government and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on appropriate use of PPE. Information on the appropriate use of PPE can be found at page 15 of the Re-Open Saskatchewan plan.
Employers should also implement non-PPE measures to control transmission of COVID-19 wherever possible, such as physical distancing and cleaning and disinfecting.
What should an employer do if they cannot source or obtain the required PPE?
Employers who decide to re-open must comply with OHS requirements. If PPE is required in order to provide the business services, the employer may not be able to safely operate without it. If employers cannot source the required PPE, they should consider whether there are any alternative methods of delivering services that do not require PPE, and whether tasks that require PPE are necessary or if they can wait.
The Saskatchewan government has stated that it is aware of current challenges in sourcing certain types of PPE, and that shortages are likely to increase as businesses re-open throughout the province. The government has published a list of PPE suppliers on its website in order to help businesses source the PPE they need. The list is not exhaustive and the government does not endorse any particular supplier.
What happens if an employee refuses to wear PPE?
Employees have a responsibility under OHS legislation to follow safe work procedures, including the use of PPE where required. To help ensure compliance, employer PPE protocols should clearly state the rationale and reason for PPE use.
An employee’s refusal to wear PPE may be cause for discipline, particularly if the refusal creates a risk of infection for other employees at the workplace. However, each case should be considered on its own facts and with a view to the individual employee’s situation.
What if an employee would like to provide their own PPE?
If an employee wishes to provide their own PPE, employers must ensure that the employee can adhere to PPE protocols, including measures for donning, doffing, and disposing of PPE. Some issues that may arise are:
- Can the employer ensure the self-provided PPE is being properly cleaned or disposed of?
- Is the self-provided PPE fit for its purpose?
- Are there any hazards associated with the re-use of self-provided PPE?
Again, each case should be considered on its own unique facts.
What if an employee wants to wear extra PPE?
Employers should ensure that their PPE protocols adhere to standard infection control practices as set out by the government and/or the WHO. If employees want to wear PPE that is above and beyond the required PPE, employers should consider whether the extra PPE creates additional risks. The WHO states that PPE use should be rational and appropriate. According to the Saskatchewan Health Authority, adding PPE beyond those recommended may increase the risk of self-contamination and may not provide any additional benefits with respect to reducing COVID-19 transmission.
Employers may also want to consider whether the extra PPE prevents the employee from safely performing their job duties, for example, by impairing the ability to communicate with other employees. That said, employers should review each individual employee’s situation. If the employee is a member of a high-risk group, the duty to accommodate may require that the employee be allowed additional PPE.
Employers would be well-suited to carefully consider the PPE guidelines that apply to their operations and incorporate these guidelines into their PPE protocols. The MLT Aikins occupational health and safety, and labour and employment team will continue to monitor the situation and provide additional updates on legal issues that may impact employers. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out to our team if you require assistance in ensuring your organization can satisfy its PPE requirements under the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan.