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Working during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic can be difficult and stressful, given the combination of work changes, health concerns, strict public safety measures, and ongoing media coverage. This fear and heightened anxiety about COVID-19 can cause some individuals to look for people and reasons to blame for the pandemic. It can contribute to social stigma towards people, places, or things, resulting in them being avoided or ridiculed even though they are not at any higher risk for getting or spreading the virus.
Groups that may experience stigma during the COVID-19 pandemic include those who have travelled, persons of Asian descent, emergency or health care professionals, and other essential workers. Although stigmatization is common in disease outbreaks, it is never acceptable.
Microaggressions are everyday verbal, non-verbal, snubs and insults that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages. These messages target persons based on the group the other person perceives them to belong to. Individuals who may be experiencing microaggression during the COVID-19 pandemic include truck and delivery drivers, hospital workers, retail clerks, individuals perceived to be ignoring or downplaying public health advice, and individuals closely connected with someone who has been confirmed as having the virus.
Victims of microagression can experience social avoidance, rejection, denials of services like healthcare or housing, boycotts of their businesses, online harassment, and physical violence. These actions can greatly affect their mental health and well-being.
The language we use and the actions we take can reinforce false assumptions and harm individuals’ well-being. Be mindful when interacting with others. It is likely they are as confused or frustrated with the changes required during physical distancing or isolation as you are. Use factual language when referring to the virus and people who have or may have it.
Workplace violence and harassment policies
During the stress of a pandemic, there is the potential for an increase in the risk of violence or harassment toward certain individuals such as those working alone or performing critical tasks such as providing care or other services to the public, and working with vulnerable individuals.
Employers are encouraged to establish or review risk assessments and policies on violence and harassment prevention in the workplace. Workers who are experiencing or have witnessed harassment or violence should report the circumstances to their employer or supervisor as soon as possible.
Everyone has a role to play in preventing microaggression and social stigma related to COVID-19. Employers can provide information from reliable sources about virus transmission and steps that workers can take to protect themselves and their families. This information can also be shared with their clients or customers to help them understand what approaches are being taken and why.
Learn and share facts from credible sources such as the Public Health Agency of Canada and the World Health Organization. For example, diseases (including COVID-19) can make anyone sick, regardless of their race or ethnicity. Someone who has completed quarantine or has been released from isolation is not a source of infection to other people.
Both employers and workers can provide support to those with Covid-19 symptoms, or who are in quarantine or self-isolation by correcting misinformation, challenging myths, and showing empathy. Support co-workers by keeping in regular contact with them. Acknowledge the impact on the team, productivity, and morale that their absence is having and let them know that they are missed. Employers can also address fears or concerns these workers might have by providing social support through phone calls, video chats etc. and helping arrange for food or essential supplies to be delivered to them.
If you are experiencing social isolation, microaggression or stigma, talk to your employer or supervisor, someone trained in mental health first aid, or someone else you trust. You can also contact your employee assistance services, if available, or reach out to your local public health or community health agencies for contacts to mental health services.
Tips & Tools
For businesses and organizations operating during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, sector-specific guidance and information can help keep their workers healthy and safe. CCOHS has developed a series of pandemic guidance tip sheets for higher-risk and essential occupations and industries.
Each document offers health and safety tips and good practices, for both employers and workers, specific to each industry or sector. Organizations and businesses can adopt this guidance to protect their workers and prevent the spread of infections. The tip sheets cover a range of occupations and industries, including construction, transportation, healthcare, restaurants, and correctional facilities.
Available in English and French, the tip sheets and can be downloaded from the CCOHS website: Pandemic (COVID-19) Tip Sheets.
April 28 is the National Day of Mourning. This day is dedicated to remembering those who have lost their lives or suffered injury or illness on the job or due to a work-related tragedy. This year many of us will have to stay home and special events commemorating the day won’t be taking place. Although we can’t get together at traditional memorial services, there are still ways you can recognize this important day.
At 11am on April 28 take the time to pause, reflect and recommit to making workplaces safe and preventing injuries and fatalities.
CCOHS has a number of resources that you can access and share.
Listen to our podcast interviews with Threads of Life speakers and hear their stories.
Show your commitment on social media by sharing these cards and tagging your posts with #dayofmourning
Videos from Threads of Life
Safety and Health Week 2020: May 3-9, 2020
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted us all and changed the way we do things. Safety and Health Week can still be celebrated in many ways that don't involve large gatherings or person-to-person-contact. Share your virtual events and help to inspire others.
Next Steps for Steps for Life -- Your Way
We may be isolating but we don't have to be isolated. Traditionally, Steps for Life-Walking for Families of Workplace Tragedy is held as a community walk. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that won't be possible this year, but it's more crucial than ever to connect with family, community and with what's important to you. Steps for Life 2020 has changed to help you do all that.
Steps for Life is an annual event in communities across Canada, focused on increasing awareness about the importance of workplace health and safety, and supporting those who’ve been affected by work-related fatalities, life-altering injuries and occupational disease. It serves as the primary fundraiser for the national charity Threads of Life.
To be part of Steps for Life 2020, just choose your own activity any time in May -- it could be anything that complies with your local health guidelines: how about a kitchen Scrabble tournament, an hour of backyard birdwatching or a bike ride?
Register online, then use the hashtag #MyWhyMyWay to share the different ways you’re showing your support for Threads of Life families.
Registration is free -- it’s all about participation, staying active, and connecting with others to promote workplace health and safety and to help those experiencing workplace tragedy.
For more information visit:
In each issue, our legislation team provides some key highlights from recent major legislative changes in Canada.
The Canada Labour Code (Part III) was amended to create a regime which provides for a leave related to COVID-19 of up to 16 weeks. The Act has also been amended to provide for the repeal of that regime and to provide for a quarantine leave under the medical leave regime. (Amended by S.C. 2020, c. 6)
The federal Quarantine Act (S.C. 2005, c. 20) was recently added to the enviroOSH service collection and is now available. This Act was recently amended to include COVID-19 coronavirus disease in the list of communicable diseases found in the Schedule. (Amended by SOR/2020-53)
New Brunswick has made major amendments to the Climate Change Act which were deemed in force retroactively Jan. 1, 2019. The changes follow the federal price schedule of $20/tonne in 2019, increasing to $50/tonne in 2022. This allows emitters to purchase offset credits and allows for the purchase of performance credits from facilities outperforming performance standards, which will be bankable and tradable.
British Columbia has made revisions to the Workers Compensation Act, which include the renumbering of sections and some minor language changes, that came into effect April 6, 2020. The revisions do not change B.C.’s laws concerning workers’ compensation, occupational health and safety, or employers’ assessment premiums. However, materials that cite the Act would be affected and would need to be updated to reflect the new numbering and language of the Act.
For more information regarding recent regulatory changes check out CCOHS’ Canadian enviroOSH Legislation plus Standards service that brings all the health, safety and environmental legislation you need into one online location.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2021, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety