Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Tips

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Introduction

This document is for employers, employees, and volunteers (e.g., officers, recruits, civilians, auxiliary, administration, etc.) who provide police services. It provides an overview of the recommended controls for the workplace due to COVID-19.

For general COVID-19 prevention practices, refer to these CCOHS documents: Protect Yourself and Others from COVID-19, COVID-19 Health and Safety Planning for Employers, COVID-19 Prevention for Workers, and COVID-19 Health and Safety Resources

Where work activities include providing emergency medical treatment additional information can be found in the CCOHS COVID-19 Tip Sheet for First Responders.

Meet your legal occupational health and safety obligations by doing everything reasonably possible under the circumstances to protect the health and safety of your employees. In all cases, guidance from local public health authorities must be followed. Also refer to current guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), your jurisdictional OHS regulator, and applicable police services associations.

Considerations When Assessing Risk

The risk of COVID-19 transmission increases when people are in closed spaces (with poor ventilation), and in crowded places with people outside of their immediate household. Risk is higher in settings where these factors overlap and/or involve activities such as close-range conversations, singing, shouting or heavy breathing (e.g., during exertion).

The COVID-19 virus may also spread when a person touches another person (e.g., a handshake) or a surface of an object (also referred to as a fomite) that has the virus on it, and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands.

Many of the activities of crime prevention, law enforcement, community outreach and victim assistance involve close or direct contact with coworkers and members of the public which increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Consider the interactions and close contact that occur during routine traffic and law enforcement (e.g., speeding, seatbelt use, RIDE program); and arresting activities (e.g., transporting an individual into custody). Front line police officers may, as part of their duties, provide emergency medical care (e.g., performing CPR, administering Naloxone).

Be sure to identify the locations where police activities are taking place. Workers may be on foot patrol, in a vehicle, on a horse, working in a canine unit, in an office setting, and/or working remotely.

Considerations When Implementing Control Measures

Determine the measures required to effectively control the transmission of COVID-19. Use the hierarchy of controls (i.e., elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative policies, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE)).

Include public health personal preventative measures in your control plan. Generally, these include COVID-19 vaccination, limiting occupancy and gathering limits, physical distancing, screening, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting, and the wearing of non-medical masks.

Consider the impact of your control measures on your business continuity plan:

  • How will employees be supported who are unable to report to work because they are sick, awaiting test results, quarantined, or in isolation?
  • What are the recommendations for employees who need to care for school aged children?
  • How will volunteer roles in the community be fulfilled?
  • The risk of severe illness of your employees and their families belonging to a higher risk group. How will they be accommodated?

Communication and Training

Inform and train all employees on the risks of COVID-19, symptoms, and the measures to help control transmission. Make sure all staff and others know the preventative measures in place before they arrive on-site.

  • Consider the ability of others to follow the recommended measures based on their health, age, disability, developmental status, or other socio-economic and demographic circumstances.
  • Could language barriers impact the ability of the public and others to understand and follow the transmission control measures?

Post signs throughout the facility to encourage physical distancing, use of non-medical masks, cleaning and disinfecting of equipment, and proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. Include workplace- specific information and your safety plan. See CCOHS’s Fact Checking COVID-19 Information for tips on choosing COVID-19 resources.

Avoid in-person meetings where possible. Use remote communication methods instead (e.g., teleconferencing, videoconferencing). When in-person meetings are required, use a large well-ventilated space, maintain at least 2 meters apart, and wear non-medical masks.

Reduce the amount of paper documentation being exchanged between employees. Consider using digital or electronic methods to exchange documents. If this can’t be avoided, wash or sanitize hands after exchanging documents.

Many people working in police services face a unique set of challenges in their day to day activities which may impact their mental health. These challenges may be exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Check in daily with your staff. Provide mental health resources, including access to your employee assistance program (EAP) program, if available.

Encourage employees to report any concerns about COVID-19 to their supervisor or employer. They can also report concerns to their health and safety committee or representative.

Information on the risks of COVID-19 transmission may change as the pandemic continues to evolve. Keep informed by continuing to follow trusted sources including the Public Health Agency of Canada and your local public health authority.

COVID-19 Vaccines

Discuss the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination with your employees. Consider whether front line officers should be prioritized. For current information on the vaccines authorized for use and how to register, please refer to the Government of Canada website, Vaccines for COVID-19.

Screening

Encourage employees to stay home if they are sick or might be sick. Follow self-assessment steps from the Public Health Agency of Canada or your local public health authority.

“Active screening” may be legally mandated in some jurisdictions and involves asking questions about a person’s health and possible exposures. Active screening may involve a self-assessment (e.g., using a web-based tool, having a person complete a questionnaire, or have a designated person asking direct questions).

Consider the size of your workforce, the number of worksites, shifts, and activities when choosing your screening method. Use a checklist or questionnaire provided by your local public health authority. Determine the procedures for how dispatchers and frontline employees will screen individuals when responding to a call. Use maximum precautions especially when screening inquiries are ambiguous. How will screening information be shared?

If readily available and feasible, consider implementing routine rapid testing of all consenting employees as an additional active screening measure. Consider how you will manage the response to a rapid test result.

Anyone who does not pass screening should not enter the workplace, should wear a medical mask, if available (otherwise, wear a well-constructed and well-fitting non-medical mask), return home (while avoiding public transit as much as possible), contact their health care provider or local public health authority and follow their advice.

Develop procedures for contacting local public health authorities for further advice in the event of a positive COVID-19 case. If the case is work-related, additional notifications may be required (e.g., the jurisdictional health and safety regulator and worker compensation board for your province or territory). Complete an incident report and begin an investigation.

Contact Tracing

Consider keeping a record of the names and contact information of your employees, contractors and essential visitors who enter your workplace for contact tracing purposes. Information should include their name, phone number and/or email, the date and time they entered the building, and what section or area of the building they visited.

Keep contact tracing information only for as long as needed (e.g., 30 calendar days). Maintain confidentiality and ensure the information is gathered, used, stored and destroyed in accordance with your privacy laws.

Encourage staff to consider installing the COVID Alert App on their phone. This app is designed to let Canadians know whether they may have been exposed to COVID-19. The app maintains one’s privacy; it does not record or share geographic location.

Reducing Potential Exposures During Front Line Duty

Always follow current work practices and prevention measures when responding to individuals.

Review situations where officers need to respond in person.

Are there opportunities to reduce the number of police stops and custodial arrests?

Encourage the public to report non-urgent complaints on-line or on a non-emergency phone number.

During calls, limit the number of officers that enter a building, use the smallest possible cohort for each situation, while still respecting existing officer safety protocols.

Train officers to maintain the greatest possible distance from all individuals during interactions with the public, e.g. when patrolling, or assessing a scene or individual.

Only responders providing medical care should be within 2 metres of a person where possible. Ask the individual and any accompanying persons to wear a medical mask. If this is not possible or not tolerated, ask the individual to keep their distance, cough, or sneeze in their arm, and to perform hand hygiene.

Employees in police services may work with trained animals (dogs, horses). Currently, there is limited information on animals and COVID-19, especially on whether animals can spread the virus. In most circumstances, people are infecting animals (human-to-animal transmission). Dogs for example, are known to be infected with COVID-19 but are not believed to spread the disease.

Continue to follow personal hygiene and respiratory practices and monitor animals for any signs or symptoms of being unwell. Additional information can be found on The Government of Canada’s website, “Animals and COVID-19”, and in the CCOHS Tip Sheet for Veterinary and Animal Care Services.

Physical Distancing

Maintain the greatest distance possible (at least 2 metres) from others wherever possible. Keep all in-person interactions as few and as brief as possible.

Follow your jurisdictional occupancy limits to determine the number of people allowed in your workplace. These limits may change as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.

Limit how many people are allowed in work and common areas. Stagger shifts, break times, and appointments where possible.

Rearrange workstations, common areas, reception areas, break rooms and chairs to promote physical distancing. Consider using multiple break areas for staff, including outdoors, if available.

Consider how people will use or travel through shared spaces, such as hallways and washrooms. Establish one-way routes where appropriate, using floor markings, signage, and other visual cues. Restrict people from entering zones they do not perform work in or need access to (does not apply in emergency situations).

Schedule employees to work together in partners or groups (cohorts). The use of cohorts reduces the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and helps with contact tracing if a positive COVID-19 case is found in the workplace. Each cohort should stay physically distant from other cohorts. Social activities, where provided, should be limited to only those within the cohort.

Physical Barriers

Consider installing physical barriers to separate people and help prevent droplet spread. Install at reception areas, between office workers, and between the front and back seats of vehicles (if not already installed).

Barriers should be made from non-porous material like plexiglass that can be easily cleaned and disinfected.

Ensure the use of barriers meets legislative requirements (e.g. fire and building codes) and consider impacts to ergonomics, pedestrian traffic patterns, and indoor air flow (i.e., reduced or diverted).

Ventilation

Poor ventilation can result in virus accumulation in the air. Continually ventilating indoor spaces will dilute and replace the potentially contaminated air.

Make sure that heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems operate properly. Consult an HVAC professional before making changes to the ventilation system(s).

Increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening building windows and doors or other methods if it does not pose a safety risk.

In vehicles, increase the amount of fresh outside air by opening the windows (weather permitting) and setting the ventilation to outside air. Avoid using the recirculated air option during passenger transport.

Make sure exhaust fans in restrooms are fully functional, operating at maximum capacity, and remain on.

Avoid blowing or circulating air from one person to another with cooling fans as it might increase the spread of COVID-19. Adjust building ventilation systems and air conditioning units instead, to:

  • Increase filtration efficiency to the highest level appropriate for the system.
  • Increase fresh air flow/percentage of outdoor air.
  • Limit use of demand-controlled ventilation; keep system running at the optimal setting.

Explore the use of portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration units.

For additional detailed information on ventilation, please refer to the Government of Canada website COVID-19: Guidance on indoor ventilation during the pandemic and the CCOHS document COVID-19 Tip Sheet: Ventilation.

Personal Hygiene

Post signs at entrances, in washrooms, and other areas throughout the workplace to promote good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.

Encourage employees and others to avoid touching their face, mouth, nose, eyes, and mask with unwashed hands.

Hand wash and hand sanitizer stations should be well stocked and easy to find, near the entrance and exits to buildings and accessible at all work locations including vehicles.

Promote proper hand hygiene practices: wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. Wash and sanitize hands:

  • at the beginning and at the end of each shift
  • before and after work breaks
  • after blowing nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • before putting on, touching or after removing non-medical masks and personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • before eating or drinking
  • after using the washroom
  • before after contact with others and between individuals
  • after touching shared surfaces and items
  • after handling garbage.

If contact with opioids are suspected, DO NOT use hand sanitizer or bleach to clean contaminated skin. Hand sanitizers may contain alcohol, which may increase the absorption of fentanyl and related products through the skin.

Do not provide communal food or beverage services. If providing food service, offer pre-wrapped takeout meals. Employees should bring their own eating service (utensils, plates, glassware) to use at work.

Employees should change out of work clothes before going home. Clothes, uniforms, aprons, etc. should be laundered as soon as possible after every shift.

Where close contact occurred (e.g., apprehension), clean and disinfect duty belt gear, and personal protective equipment (PPE) prior to reusing. Follow procedures for the safe containment and disposal of used PPE. Change uniform/clothing as soon as possible following any exposure to blood or bodily fluids. Follow up with hand hygiene.

Cleaning and Disinfecting

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

Develop a cleaning schedule and follow your standard operating procedures for cleaning and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces (door handles, light switches, chairs, etc.) and equipment.

Clean and disinfect common areas and equipment between users. If using barriers, clean and disinfect both sides of the barrier frequently throughout the day.

Make sure washrooms are cleaned and disinfected frequently and stocked with soap and paper towels.

Train staff on cleaning and disinfecting procedures including applicable workplace hazardous materials information system (WHMIS) legislation, and provide adequate supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Use approved hard-surface disinfectants that have a Drug Identification Number (DIN). This number means that it has been approved for use in Canada.

Read and follow manufacturer’s instructions for safe use of cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., wear gloves, use in well-ventilated area, allow enough contact time for disinfectant to kill germs based on the product being used).

Used cleaning cloths, towels, garments, and uniforms must be properly handled to prevent contamination, and laundered after every use.

Consider using gloves when handling laundry. Do not shake the laundry when sorting. Use detergent and make sure the laundry is completely dry before using. Clean and disinfect hampers and bins used for storing laundry.

Replace garbage bins with no-touch receptacles or remove lids that require contact to open. Line garbage cans for safe and convenient disposal of contaminated items, such as used PPE, tissues, and cleaning materials.

Dispose of garbage at least daily and follow up with hand hygiene.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Continue to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for existing occupational health and safety hazards and emergencies as directed by applicable laws and your employer.

Additional PPE including eye protection (i.e., goggles or face shield that fully covers the front and sides of the face) and disposable gloves may be required when cleaning and disinfecting. Consult the manufacturer’s safe use and handling instructions or the hazardous product’s safety data sheet (SDS) for recommended PPE.

Employees may also opt for eye protection (such as face shields) when in close physical contact with others. Stay informed as guidance is evolving regarding the use of face shields. They are not a suitable replacement for face masks but can provide eye protection.

Ensure adequate PPE is provided for employees who interact with the public. For example, an N95 respirator, a face shield, disposal gloves and a gown should be worn when in direct contact with another person (e.g., providing emergency medical attention).

If unable to wear a disposable gown or coveralls because it limits access to duty belt and gear, employees must clean and disinfect the duty belt after contact with an individual.

PPE must be put on (donned) and removed (doffed) appropriately, performing hand hygiene before, during and after removing pieces of equipment. A reference to putting on and removing PPE can be found here.

Develop procedures and train staff on the selection, use, wearing, removal, disposal, cleaning, maintenance, and storage of PPE. Improper use of PPE can increase the risk of infection.

PPE should not be shared unless recommended by manufacturer. Clean and disinfect PPE that is shared between users.

Clean hands before putting on PPE and after removing PPE.

Non-Medical Masks (NMMs)

Non-medical masks might help to block respiratory droplets, but they are not considered personal protective equipment. Follow the recommendations for the use of non-medical masks as issued by your public health authority.

  • If providing non-medical masks, ensure they are well-constructed and well-fitting. Masks should be worn properly, fully covering the nose, mouth, and chin without gaps. Encourage people not to touch their face or mask with unwashed hands.
  • Children under the age of 2 should not wear a non-medical mask or face covering. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 may be able to wear a mask if supervised. Children older than the age of 5 should follow the same advice for adults on when to wear a non- medical mask or face coverings.
  • 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).
  • Be aware that non-medical masks have limitations, and improper mask use and disposal can increase the risk of infection.
  • Change your mask if it becomes wet or soiled. For example, you may wish to bring a second mask, and store in a clean paper bag, envelope, or container that does not trap moisture. Store reusable soiled masks in a separate bag or container. Do not touch the outside of the mask while removing it and wash your hands when you are finished.
  • Do not allow the mask to be a hazard to other activities, such as getting caught on moving machinery or flammability from open sparks or flames.
  • For some people, not being able to see another person’s face and mouth clearly may cause difficulties (e.g., young children, people who are deaf or hard of hearing). Consider using a transparent mask in those situations.

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 April 13, 2021