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Introduction

This document is intended for employers, workers, and participants of places of worship. It provides an overview of potential hazards due to COVID-19 and recommends control measures.

In all cases, guidance from local public health authorities and your jurisdictional health and safety regulator must be followed.

Refer to COVID-19 information and guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). Refer to these CCOHS documents for general COVID-19 prevention practices:

Consider the Risks

COVID-19 spreads from infected individuals to others through respiratory particles. Workers can be exposed when they have close contact with a person who has COVID-19 or by touching surfaces or items contaminated with the COVID-19 virus.

The risk of COVID-19 transmission is increased when:

  • Person-to-person interactions are longer and more frequent, especially when less than 2 metres apart.
  • In crowded or poorly ventilated places.
  • Taking part in activities that generate respiratory particles (e.g., speaking, coughing, singing, etc.).
  • People have inadequate hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, or do not have access to cleaning facilities and products.
  • Frequently contacting contaminated high-touch surfaces, and shared objects.
  • There is a high number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases in the local community.
  • COVID-19 vaccination rates among workers, their families, or the local community are low.

Risk of transmission increases when several of these risk factors occur at the same time.

Each setting is unique. Consider all possible COVID-19 exposure scenarios by performing COVID-19 risk assessments. An existing risk assessment checklist may be used to document and evaluate all of the settings characteristics, activities, job roles. Consider the following questions when developing the COVID-19 risk assessment:

  • Where and when do workers interact with others (e.g., group prayer, religious ceremonies)?
  • How close, long, and frequent are the interactions?
  • What are the high-touch surfaces and objects and how often are they cleaned and disinfected?
  • Do workers have the knowledge they need to protect themselves and others from the spread of COVID-19?
  • Are you able to assess if a person may have COVID-related symptoms, and rapidly take appropriate actions?
  • Which individuals are at higher risk (i.e., older or otherwise vulnerable)?
  • Is COVID-19 spreading rapidly in the local community? Are local COVID-19 cases or hospitalizations high or rising?
  • What are the community and workplace vaccination rates?
  • Are people that attend gatherings able to maintain physical distancing?
  • Can religious services be provided safely (e.g., virtually, shortened service, overlapping of groups, back-to-back service)?
  • Should group sizes be reduced? Should drop-in services be suspended?
  • Is indoor ventilation adequate?
  • Do activities involve loud verbal instructions and music (shouting, yelling, singing)?
  • Are food and beverages being served?
  • What other activities take place at the facility (e.g., daycare, services to vulnerable individuals, children’s programs, fundraisers, etc.)?

Control Measures

Meet your legal occupational health and safety obligations by doing everything reasonably possible in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of your workers and volunteers.

To provide the highest level of protection, implement multiple public health measures and workplace control measures (following the hierarchy of controls) in a layered approach. No single measure is completely effective alone. Be careful not to create new hazards or negatively impact existing safety controls. Review and adjust measures as necessary in consultation with the workplace health and safety committee or representative.

Create and implement a written workplace COVID-19 safety (or operational) plan. The plan should document the control measures used to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19 and may be legally required by your local jurisdiction. Make sure the plan follows jurisdictional requirements such as including specific measures, maintaining training records, and posting the plan, etc. Implement policies and programs to accommodate workers who are at high risk of severe disease or outcomes (i.e., immunocompromised, have medical conditions, unable to be vaccinated, or older) from a COVID-19 infection.

Vaccination

  • Consider creating and implementing a COVID-19 vaccination policy and make sure it follows applicable government vaccination requirements.
  • Discuss any concerns about the vaccine policy with workers, health and safety committee or representative, and union (if present).
  • Provide accommodation to any worker that has a valid exemption.
  • Request proof or attestation of vaccination from workers as required by your local legislation or as guided by your vaccination policy.
  • Encourage people to be fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.
  • Consider providing support for workers that get vaccinated (e.g., paid time off for those who get vaccinated during work hours). Additional time away from work may be required by workers experiencing temporary side effects from vaccination.
  • Maintain COVID-19 workplace controls and public health measures, even if most workers are vaccinated. Follow local public health authority guidance on easing or reimposing controls.
  • For additional information on the vaccines refer to:

Communication and Training

  • Provide information and instruction to workers about the hazards of COVID-19 and what they need to do to protect themselves and others. Topics should include:
  • Encourage workers to report any COVID-19 concerns to their supervisor or employer, health and safety committee or union (if present).
  • Provide regular communications so that people are informed of updates and have an opportunity to ask questions.
  • Review existing communication methods (e.g., bulletin board, email, team meetings), and use the most reliable methods to keep everyone informed.
  • Post informational signs throughout the space, such as:
  • Avoid in-person meetings and training sessions where possible. Use remote communications methods instead (e.g., teleconferencing, videoconferencing). When in-person meetings and training are required, use a large well-ventilated space, instruct people to stay the greatest physical distance (at least 2 metres) apart, wear a mask, and limit the number of people. If possible, hold meetings and training outside.
  • If multiple employers operate in the venue, coordinate and communicate with each other to make sure all workers are adequately trained and protected.
  • Reduce the amount of paper documentation or other items being passed between people (e.g., financial contributions). Consider using electronic methods. If this exchange can’t be avoided, wash or sanitize hands after handling items. Consider asking participants to bring in their own materials to gatherings (e.g., hymn books, scriptures) or project the text onto screens.
  • Provide information on mental health support resources available to workers (e.g., employee assistance program (EAP)).
  • Provide information about protective measures and reduced services, explain why these measures are necessary and how it will impact the experience. Ask people to be considerate of workers and other persons.

Screening and Contact Tracing

  • If required by the local jurisdiction or internal policy, implement a screening policy. The policy should outline which type of screening each venue requires: passive or active (for more information on COVID-19 screening refer to the resources below). Some jurisdictions may require active screening in response to local pandemic conditions.
  • Deny entry to the space to anyone who fails the screening and follow the COVID-19 Response Plan below.
  • Check proof of vaccination (or medical exemption) for visitors, if required by local authorities or by internal policy.
  • Determine if you are required to implement contact tracing for your workplace. Record the names and contact information of customers as recommended by your local public health authority and provide it to them upon their request. Make sure that private information is collected, stored securely, and destroyed according to privacy laws.
  • For additional information refer to:

COVID-19 Response plan

  • When anyone reports having COVID-19 symptoms while in the space or fails screening, immediately have them wear a mask (Preferably a respirator or medical mask. If not available, wear a well-constructed and well fitting non-medical mask).
  • Call 911 for medical assistance if symptoms are life threatening.
  • For workers:
    • Have the person stop work immediately and isolate them from others in a designated space.
    • Thoroughly clean and disinfect any equipment, surfaces, or objects they came into contact with.
    • When it is safe, send the worker home. Ask them to avoid public modes of transportation, if possible.
    • Instruct them to seek medical care if symptoms worsen, and to follow guidance from their local public health authority.
    • Refer to local public health authority guidance to determine when the worker can return to work.
  • Ask visitors and members to leave as soon as it is safe.
  • When informed of a positive COVID-19 test result, report it to your local public health authority (if required) and cooperate with any contact tracing efforts. Employers may also be required to inform all individuals who may have been exposed unless that is the responsibility of the public health authority.
  • Investigate all workplace COVID-19 infections. Additional notifications may be required, refer to guidance from your health and safety regulator and worker compensation board to determine reporting requirements.
  • Make sure that your sick leave policy supports workers who are or may be sick. Support may include paid or unpaid sick leave, long-term disability, and government programs (if available).
  • For additional information refer to Responding to COVID-19 in the Workplace – CCOHS.

Ventilation

  • Ventilate indoor spaces appropriately according to the number of occupants and types of activities.
  • Verify that the mechanical ventilation systems are operating properly.
  • Consult a ventilation specialist to determine whether any enhancements can be made to the ventilation systems (e.g., increasing fresh air intake, and improving filtration).
  • Make sure that regular inspections and preventative maintenance for ventilation systems is conducted according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • If possible, run mechanical ventilation systems for two hours at maximum outside airflow before and after the spaces are occupied.
  • Open windows and doors to the outside to passively ventilate indoor spaces, weather permitting.
  • Keep humidity between 30% and 50% for indoor settings.
  • For additional information on indoor ventilation, refer to:

Physical Distancing

  • Require all individuals in the workplace to keep the greatest physical distance possible (at least 2 metres) from each other, when safe to do so.
  • Modify activities such as celebrating festivals or during religious ceremonies to allow people to maintain physical distancing.
  • Avoid non-essential in-person interactions (such as handshakes) and keep essential interactions as few and as brief as possible.
  • Follow jurisdictional limits for in-person gatherings, both indoors and outdoors. Consider limiting the number of people even if there are no restrictions to allow for physical distancing.
  • Encourage people that arrive together to stay as a group and keep physical distance from others while indoors.
  • Determine if any workers can work remotely (e.g., roles that perform administrative functions). Provide ergonomic support and resources for these workers.
  • Identify areas that may be crowded (e.g., entrances, elevators, washrooms). If necessary, modify practices to avoid having large groups of people in the same area.
  • Space seats apart at least 2 metres in prayer spaces, kitchens, break rooms. Remove or block off chairs if necessary.
  • Since masks are removed when eating or drinking, limit the number of people taking breaks at the same time. Arrange for breaks to occur in larger spaces or outdoors (weather permitting) and at staggered times.
  • Allow exceptions to distancing guidance in certain circumstances such as rescuing a distressed person, providing first aid, or performing Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR).
  • Consider separating singers and people playing wind or brass instruments with a physical barrier (e.g., plexiglass shield).
  • If appropriate, install physical barriers when close interactions are unavoidable, (e.g., when serving food or during one-on-one meetings). Refer to the CCOHS document COVID-19 Tip Sheet: Physical Barriers for detailed information on use and installation (dimensions, materials) of physical barriers.
  • Refer to these resources for additional details:

Hygiene Measures

  • Encourage frequent and proper hand washing with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren't available, use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Place hand sanitizer dispensers in high traffic areas (e.g., entrances).
  • Appropriate times to wash or sanitize hands:
    • at the start of shift,
    • before eating, drinking, or smoking,
    • after touching shared items,
    • after using the washroom,
    • after cleaning and disinfecting objects,
    • before and after putting on or removing PPE or a mask, and
    • at the end of the shift.
  • Discourage individuals from touching their eyes, nose, mouth, or mask with unwashed hands.
  • Promote good respiratory etiquette. Provide disposable tissues and remind individuals to cough or sneeze into the bend of your arm or a tissue and to dispose of tissues immediately, followed up with hand washing or use of hand sanitizer.
  • Make sure that all necessary materials are readily available (e.g., hand sanitizer, no-touch waste receptacles, tissues).
  • Consider using posters or projecting information on a screen instead of handouts.
  • Close shared coat check areas. Ask people to keep items (e.g., coats, bags, shoes, prayer mats, prayer beads, etc.) with them.

Cleaning and Disinfection

Viruses may settle on objects and remain infectious for a few hours to days depending on the type of surface and environmental conditions.

  • Clean and disinfect the workplace on a routine schedule. Focus on commonly touched objects and surfaces such as counters, chairs, handles, doorknobs, light switches, controls, sinks, sanitizer dispensers, diaper-changing stations, podiums, lecterns, religious objects, and any protective barriers.
  • Use approved hard surface disinfectants.
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using, handling, or storing the product. Review the product’s label, and (if applicable) safety data sheet to determine what precautions to follow.
  • Remove soft furnishings and objects that cannot be easily cleaned (e.g., hymn books, instruments, ceremonial objects, etc.) from circulation.
  • Allow adequate time to disinfect any shared equipment between each user.
  • Launder items according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Machine wash using the warmest appropriate water setting (preferably hot water at 60 to 90°C), use laundry detergent, and dry thoroughly. Do not shake dirty laundry.
  • Refer to these resources for details:

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

PPE includes such items as respirators, medical masks, eye protection (e.g., goggles, face shield), gowns, gloves, and safety footwear.

  • Continue to use PPE for existing occupational safety hazards and emergencies. COVID-19 PPE policies must not interfere when a higher level of protection is needed for the task.
  • Conduct a hazard assessment and make sure that workers have the correct PPE for the tasks and activities they are performing.
  • Workers may need PPE for COVID-19 protection if they are:
    • Performing tasks that require them to be less than 2 metres from another person.
    • Using cleaning and disinfecting products (refer to the manufacturers’ safe handling instructions).
    • Providing emergency first-aid.
    • Screening others.
  • Workers must be trained on how to properly use and care for their PPE.
  • Refer to these resources for details:

Wearing Masks

  • Consider implementing a mask wearing policy, even if it is not mandatory. Encourage indoor mask wearing as an additional protective measure when there is high risk for COVID-19 spread.
  • Masks should be comfortable, well-fitting, well-constructed, and fully cover the nose, mouth, and chin.
  • Implement or update the workplace heat-stress program, as mask wearing may increase physiological stress during high-exertion tasks.
  • Masks should not be worn by anyone who is unable to remove the mask without assistance (e.g., due to their age, ability, or developmental status).
  • Refer to these resources for details:

Hosting Gatherings

  • Consider offering alternative methods to provide services such as virtual gatherings or counselling by phone, drive-in, or dedicated services.
  • When possible, consider holding events or activities outdoors.
  • Ask members to arrive no more than 15 minutes before service start time and to leave promptly afterward.
  • Reduce noise levels (e.g., turn down/off music) so people can speak as quietly as possible and avoid shouting or yelling.
  • Discourage chanting, yelling, or singing. Singing, especially with groups in settings with poor ventilation (e.g., recirculated air), is considered a high-risk activity. Consider having a soloist sing (using a barrier such as plexiglass) or providing recorded or instrumental music. Singers that are members of the same household could sing together while distanced from others.
  • Host smaller events in larger rooms or spaces, whenever possible.
  • Consider offering additional services for smaller sized groups or holding services outside to allow for physical distancing.
  • Consider modifying or suspending certain religious activities, such as Communion.
  • Do not hold group nursery and children’s activities. Children should remain with their parents or guardians.
  • Limit any non-essential visitors, volunteers and activities involving external groups or organizations during the event.
  • Avoid in-person gatherings such as social events after religious gatherings.

Food and Beverage

  • Discourage the sharing of food and drink.
  • Shut off water fountains or replace them with water bottle refill stations. Each person should have their own labelled water bottle.
  • If a cafeteria or group dining room is used, serve individually plated meals or grab-and-go options, and hold activities in separate areas.
  • Avoid offering any self-serve food or drink options, such as buffets, salad bars, and drink stations. Consider having prepackaged boxes or bags. If self-serve options are not possible, have people serve the food to prevent the sharing of utensils.
  • Use disposable dishes and cutlery. If disposable items are not feasible or desirable, ensure that all non-disposable food service items are washed with dish soap and hot water or in a dishwasher between uses.
  • Individuals should wash their hands before putting on and after removing their gloves or after directly handling used food service items.
  • Encourage members to remain seated when eating or drinking.

It is important that mental health resources and support are provided to all workers, including access to an employee assistance program, if available.

For further information on COVID-19, refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Note that this guidance is just some of the adjustments organizations can make during a pandemic. Adapt this list by adding your own good practices and policies to meet your organization’s specific needs.

Disclaimer: As public and occupational health and safety information is changing rapidly, local public health authorities should be consulted for specific, regional guidance. This information is not intended to replace medical advice or legislated health and safety obligations. Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.

Document last updated March 31, 2022