This tip sheet is for employers and managers in the waste management and recycling industry, including organizations involved in non-hazardous solid waste (such as household and commercial garbage) collection, handling, transportation, sorting, and disposal. It provides an overview of potential workplace hazards and risks due to COVID-19 and recommends control measures. This document can also be informative to workers.
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 droplets and aerosols (e.g., when speaking, coughing, etc.).
People have inadequate hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, or access to cleaning facilities and products.
Handling contaminated waste, high-touch surfaces, and shared objects frequently.
There are many local community COVID-19 cases or hospitalizations.
COVID-19 variants that have a higher transmission rate are present.
Workers may be exposed to a combination of these risks. Consider all possible COVID-19 exposure scenarios in your setting and perform a COVID-19 risk assessment. Develop or use an existing risk assessment checklist to document and evaluate all work setting characteristics, activities, job roles, and the impacts to workers (including vulnerable populations such as those exempt from vaccination). Conduct separate risk assessments for each facility to account for differences between sites.
Sample questions to ask during a COVID-19 risk assessment:
Are local COVID-19 cases or hospitalizations high or rising?
Is the ventilation in enclosed spaces (e.g., buildings, vehicles, etc.) adequate?
Are workers able to maintain physical distancing?
Where do workers gather (e.g., kitchen, break areas, etc.)?
What activities increase the risk of exposure to the virus?
Do the activities cause heavy breathing or require verbal communication? Can they be modified?
Who is expected to interact with others in the workplace?
How frequent and physically close are interactions between people?
Which workers are at higher risk (i.e., older or otherwise vulnerable)?
What are the high-touch surfaces and shared objects? (e.g., washrooms, door handles, tools, equipment etc.)?
Are food and beverages prepared, served, and consumed on site?
To provide the highest level of protection to workers, use multiple public health measures and workplace controls in a layered approach. No single measure is completely effective alone. Be careful not to create new workplace 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 plan supported by the risk assessment. The plan should document the control measures meant to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19. A written plan may be legally required by the jurisdiction in which you operate. Refer to local authorities for details on what must be included in the plan, if it needs to be posted etc.
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. Implement policies and programs to accommodate workers who are at high risk of severe disease or outcomes (i.e., immunocompromised, have chronic medical conditions, unable to be vaccinated, or older) from a COVID-19 infection.
Communicate the workplace controls and the public health measures that are in place to all workers in languages they understand. Specific training requirements and recommendations may vary depending on your jurisdiction. Communications should be frequent enough to update workers on changes and to allow for feedback and concerns to be raised.
COVID-19 specific training for workers should include the following:
Screening poster (obtained from your local public health authority): Entrances.
Signs indicating the maximum occupancy for rooms or spaces, especially those which should have few occupants such as washrooms.
Floor markers or posters which encourage physical distancing.
Screening and Contact Tracing
Consider the following suggestions for screening and contact tracing:
Before allowing entry to the worksite or the start of work, request proof or attestation of vaccination as required by your local legislation or as guided by your vaccination policy. Keep in mind that a company policy should not conflict with the law.
Implement a screening policy which outlines the type of screening each worksite requires: passive or active. Some jurisdictions may require active screening in response local pandemic conditions.
Passive screening is when individuals self-monitor and self-report possible illness or exposure to COVID-19.
Active screening is when individuals respond to questions about possible signs or symptoms of infection, recent possible COVID-19 exposures, or recent travel outside of Canada. This data can be gathered with paper or web-based screening questionnaires, or by having a designated person ask screening questions.
Rapid testing may be performed in addition to the screening questionnaire.
Maintain a database of all workers, including their names and contact information, and keep track of their working days and hours. Also collect the contact information of any visitors to the facility, the date, and time. This information should be provided to the local public health authority if requested for the purpose of contact tracing. All information must be safely stored and destroyed as required by privacy legislation.
Workers that pass the screening can enter the facility. Anyone who does not pass the screening should be denied entry.
Workers who do not pass the screening should contact their supervisor. The supervisor should instruct them to stay (or return) home and monitor themselves for symptoms. Workers should contact their health care provider if they develop symptoms or symptoms worsen. They may also need to contact their local public health authority, if required.
COVID-19 Response Plan
A written plan may be legally required by the jurisdiction in which you operate. It may need to be posted, and available upon request from an inspector. Refer to your jurisdiction for instructions on what must be included in the plan.
When any person experiences COVID-19 symptoms while already in the facility:
Immediately have them wear a mask (preferably a respirator or medical mask, if not available a well-constructed and well fitting non-medical mask). A respirator used in this way (source control) may not need to be fit tested.
Ask them to leave as soon as it is safe for them to do so. If needed, have them isolate in a designated area, away from other workers, until they can leave.
Call 911 for medical assistance if symptoms are life threatening. Notify their emergency contact.
If the case is work-related involving a worker, additional notifications may be required. Contact your jurisdictional OHS regulator and workers’ compensation board for guidance. Complete an incident report and begin an investigation.
Adopt sick leave policies that are flexible and consider providing support to workers who are off sick (i.e., do not penalise workers that do not come to work when they feel sick). Keep in mind that workers may not be able to obtain a positive COVID-19 test to prove illness.
For additional information on what to do if someone is identified as having symptoms or has potentially been exposed to COVID-19, please refer to:
Ventilate indoor spaces appropriately (e.g., according to their size and occupancy level).
Open building windows and doors, if possible.
Maintain ventilation systems and seek advice from a Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) professional on possible improvements (e.g., increasing air exchanges per hour, reducing or eliminating recirculated air, or upgrades to air filtration and disinfection).
Keep vehicle windows down if there is more than one occupant, if possible.
If possible, run HVAC systems for two hours at maximum outside airflow before and after the rooms and/or building are occupied.
Run washroom and kitchen exhaust fans that vent to the outside at low speed to help remove contaminated air.
Make sure that air circulation or cooling fans do not direct air flow from person to person.
If ventilation cannot be improved, consider portable air filtration units with high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filters.
Keep humidity between 30% and 50% for indoor settings. Lower humidity may cause the virus to stay suspended in the air longer.
For additional information on indoor ventilation, refer to:
Consider installing transparent physical barriers to reduce the spread of respiratory particles. Barriers should be positioned between workers who might spread respiratory particles toward each other (e.g., from speaking, heavy breathing while working, etc.), especially if the interactions are frequent and workers are less than 2 metres apart. Clean and disinfect barriers at least daily.
Carefully plan the placement of barriers. Make sure that building ventilation is not negatively impacted and do not to block aisles or exits (i.e., emergency escape). Avoid surrounding workers completely with barriers as this may reduce the effectiveness of ventilation.
Physical distancing requires people to:
Maintain a safe distance from others (at least 2 metres in all directions).
Avoid non-essential in-person interactions.
Keep interactions as few and as brief as possible.
Workplace physical distancing measures to consider:
Follow occupancy limits and physical distancing requirements defined by the local public health or government authority. Adjust limits according to each space (e.g., washrooms, elevators, etc.) or when requirements change.
Maximize the distance between people:
Spread workstations apart. Where possible, avoid having more than 1 worker at a time at each workstation.
Limit the number of workers in vehicles to help maintain the required distance.
Maintain physical distancing on breaks, including lunchrooms and breakrooms.
Limit access to sinks, urinals, etc. which are close to each other.
Modify tasks to minimize close physical contact.
Avoid having workers face each other directly.
Avoid in-person gatherings such as social events. Some meetings may be conducted remotely with video conferencing software, if possible.
Reduce the frequency and duration of in-person interactions.
Allow exceptions to distancing guidance in certain circumstances such as rescuing a distressed person, providing first aid, or performing Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR).
For additional information on physical distancing, refer to:
Provide hand washing stations or hand sanitizer dispensers (always with minimum 60% alcohol content) in high traffic areas such as entrances, exits, breakrooms, vehicle loading areas, inside vehicles, washrooms, and throughout the facility.
High transmission risk objects and surfaces such as doors and handrails (should be disinfected multiple times a day).
Washrooms, including faucets and flushing mechanisms which require touch to operate.
Tables, chairs, eating surfaces (before and after each use).
After cleaning and disinfecting, consider:
Used cleaning cloths, towels etc. must be properly handled to prevent contamination, and laundered or disposed of after every use.
Deposit heavily contaminated or disposable items into plastic lined waste containers.
Dispose of garbage at least daily and follow up with hand hygiene.
Personal Protective 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.
Noisy environments can cause workers to shout to communicate. When it isn’t possible to reduce the noise levels, consider hearing protection which reduces high frequencies but allows the wearer to hear speech.
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.
Workers must be trained on how to properly use and care for their PPE.
Follow the mask wearing requirements of your local public health authority and jurisdiction. If not required, mask wearing should still be encouraged as an additional measure when there is high risk for COVID-19 spread, or when physical distancing is not possible.
Masks should be worn indoors and when there is more than one occupant in a vehicle.
Masks should be well-constructed and well-fitting, covering the nose, mouth, and chin.
Encourage people not to touch their face or mask with unwashed hands.
For some individuals, not being able to see a workers’ face and mouth clearly may cause difficulties (e.g., hard of hearing, using lip-reading, needing to see facial expressions). Consider using transparent masks.
Workers may also wish to use eye protection (such as safety glasses, goggles, or face shield) in addition to a mask when in close physical contact with others. Note that face shields do not offer equivalent respiratory protection as masks.
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).
Be aware that non-medical masks have limitations, and improper mask use and disposal can increase the risk of infection. While non-medical masks are useful in reducing the spread of COVID-19, they are not considered Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as they do not meet regulated testing and certification standards.
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.