Workplace guidance for agriculture and agri-food sector employers and employees

This guidance was assembled in consultation with the Public Health Agency of Canada; Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) does not develop or issue public health guidance. It does not address legislated occupational health and safety requirements for the workplace, nor does it replace public health guidance from local public health authorities or the Public Health Agency of Canada. If you find discrepancies in public health guidance, follow the more specific or local guidance.

This page will be updated as pandemic conditions evolve.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) also has additional information available online:

How the virus spreads in the workplace and reducing the risk

How the virus spreads in a workplace

Employees in processing plants or other agricultural operations like greenhouses and farms do not face increased exposure to COVID-19 through the products they handle. However, their work environments, such as processing lines, field equipment, and other areas where they cannot avoid frequently touched surfaces or packaging or close contact with coworkers and supervisors, may contribute substantially to their potential exposure.

Factors that affect employees' risk for exposure to COVID-19

  • Distance between employees - processing plant employees often work close to one another on processing lines. Agriculture and food employees may also be near one another when clocking in or out, during breaks, as part of communal living, harvesting or in locker/changing rooms, which makes it difficult to maintain at least 2 metres' physical distance at all times.
  • Duration of contact - processing plant employees often have long shifts where they have close contact with coworkers (for example, for 10 to 12 hours per shift). Employees who live together, such as temporary foreign workers, may also have prolonged contact with their housemates and work teams. Continued contact with potentially infectious individuals increases the risk of transmission.
  • Type of contact - employees may be exposed to the virus through respiratory droplets and aerosols in the air – for example, when someone in a facility who has the virus coughs, sneezes, shouts, sings or talks. Exposure can occur when employees touch contaminated surfaces or objects, such as tools, packages, field equipment, workstations, or break room tables, and then touch their mouth, eyes or nose before washing their hands. Shared spaces that increase close personal contact such as bunkhouses, break rooms, locker rooms, and entrances/exits to the facility may also contribute to their risk.
  • Sharing transportation such as ride-share vans, shuttle vehicles, car-pools and public transportation.
  • Frequent contact with community residents, family members and fellow employees in areas where there is ongoing community transmission.

Reducing the risk

Preventing the spread of COVID-19 should focus on preventing exposure to COVID-19 both in the community and in the workplace (see: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Prevention and risks). There is no single action or tool that will stop the spread of COVID-19. Each facility manager or employer should follow the hierarchy of controls using multiple measures based on their specific identified risks.

For information on COVID-19 Health and Safety Resources, refer to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) COVID-19 resources online. There is a Workplace Health and Safety Guide (PDF), sector-specific tip sheets (including one for the agricultural workplaces and one for the food processing workplaces), and infographics that can be posted at work. Employers can select the information most relevant to their business and build a customized toolkit. There is also a new course/eLearning video Prevent the Spread of COVID-19: Guidance for Temporary Foreign Workers which is available free of cost.

The most important measures at home, in the community and in the workplace

  • Maintain the greatest physical distance possible (at least 2 metres) from others.
  • When it is not possible to consistently maintain at least a 2 metre physical distance from others, wear a non-medical mask.
  • Practising rigorous hand hygiene: wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol based hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol) if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoiding touching your face: mouth, nose or eyes.
  • Practising good respiratory etiquette — cough or sneeze into your arm, or wear a non-medical mask to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets from an unknowingly-infected person.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and objects regularly.

Steps for facility managers

Do not let anyone enter the workplace if they have symptoms, even mild ones.

Identify one qualified person, such as your occupational health and safety professional, to be responsible for COVID-19 assessment and control planning. Control plans should apply to anyone entering or working at the facility: all employees, contractors, visitors and others.

  • Make sure all employees in the workplace know how to contact the qualified person if they have any COVID-19 concerns.

Communicate to employees the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and what steps the employer is taking to prevent its spread.

Refer to your local public health authorities and provide current COVID-19 information to your workforce.

Assess the workplace periodically to identify COVID-19 risks, evaluate your prevention strategies, and address the control program as required.

Establish a system for employees to alert their supervisors if they are experiencing signs or symptoms of COVID-19, or if they have had recent close contact with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case.

Establish and communicate what the response measures will be when a suspected case is identified.

Ensure that supervisors and human resources personnel are aware of policies that require employees to stay home if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, in order to avoid mixed messages regarding attendance at work.

Identify which work activities, positions, and number of employees are integral for the core business to continue operating. Consider access to people, utilities, raw materials, computers, machinery or equipment, replacement parts, tools, vehicles, and means of communication. Assess and control for the hazards associated with those changes.

Identify and train employees as back up for essential functions. Be sure to include employees responsible for emergency response (for example, fire drills, first aid).

Ensure that effective communication networks are in place to provide consistent messages on actions taken by the employer to protect employee health as well as the responsibilities of employees. Opportunities for employees to provide feedback on practical issues associated with mitigation strategies may also be useful.

Establish 'cohorts'

Creating cohorts— groups of employees who live, commute and/or work together — can help limit spread of COVID-19 and enable easier contact tracing if a positive case is found. Minimize mixing of cohorts, and keep each cohort physically distant from other cohorts as much as possible.

Organize cohorts by

  • teams that normally work together, on the same shift or in the same area of the business
  • scheduling a group of employees to work, and take breaks, together, then staggering start times and break times for different cohorts
  • arranging scheduled buses or shuttles so that each cohort travels together

In shared living spaces

Do not house workers in quarantine with workers who are not in quarantine. For more information, see A Guide for Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada.

  • Trying to limit the number of employees in each shared accommodation.
  • All employees sharing a bunkhouse can be grouped to work together as part of the same work team.
  • Limiting social activities to only those within their bunkhouse or work team.
  • Keeping the number of employees using common areas as small as possible.
  • Arranging bus schedules or shuttles to carry the same groups of employees together. See carpooling for more information on group travel.


  • Use individual transportation when available. Encourage employees to avoid carpooling to and from work, if possible.

If carpooling or using company vehicles is a necessity, the following control practices should be used:

  • If cohorts or teams of employees have been established, then carpooling/shuttles should be limited to cohort members only.
  • Limit the number of people per vehicle to the extent possible to maintain physical distancing. This may mean using more vehicles.
  • Encourage employees to maintain the greatest physical distance possible.
  • Encourage employees to clean their hands before entering the vehicle and when arriving at the destination.
  • Encourage employees to wear non-medical masks.
  • Dedicate a vehicle to each cohort, or clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces after each carpool or shuttle trip (for example, door handles, handrails, seatbelt buckles).
  • Encourage employees to follow coughing and sneezing etiquette when in the vehicle.

Operational changes to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in a workplace

There is no single action or tool that will stop the spread of COVID-19. Each facility manager or employer should follow the hierarchy of controls using multiple measures based on identified risk areas to minimize the potential spread of the virus in the workplace. The goal is to minimize each hazard; including by using engineering controls such as proper ventilation; and physical barriers; and implementing appropriate cleaning and disinfection practices to reduce exposure or shield workers. Administrative strategies, including how employees are scheduled, are also an important part of an approach to prevention in the workplace. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) COVID-19: Workplace Health and Safety Guide (PDF) provides helpful information on what workplaces should do to control risks.

Employers can do the following to promote physical distancing:

  • Encourage single-file movement with at least a 2 metre distance between each employee through the facility.
  • Modify the alignment of workstations, including along processing lines, if feasible, so that employees are at least 2 metres apart in all directions (for example, side-to-side and when facing one another). Ideally, modify the alignment of workstations so that employees do not face one another. Physical barriers may be used as a hazard control when it is not possible to maintain physical distancing and there is regular contact with others.
  • Consider adjusting line speeds in order to require fewer employees at each workstation.
  • Designate employees to monitor and facilitate distancing on processing floor lines, within the greenhouse or fields, or on field equipment.
  • Keep the number of people using common spaces as small as possible.
  • Stagger employees' arrival and departure times to avoid congregations of workers in parking areas, locker rooms, and near time clocks.
  • Stagger break times or provide temporary break areas and restrooms to avoid groups of employees during breaks.
  • Remove or rearrange chairs and tables, or add partitions to tables, in break rooms and other areas employees may use to increase employee separation.
  • Identify alternative areas to accommodate the need for extra space, such as training and conference rooms or using outside tents for break and lunch areas.
  • Provide visual cues (for example, floor markings, signs) that can be read from a far distance as a reminder to everyone to maintain physical distancing, including while on breaks.
  • Consider establishing cohorts and minimize contact between cohorts including staggering work times to avoid different cohorts from interacting with each other. See Establishing cohorts or teams of employees for more information.

Employers can do the following to promote good hygiene:

  • Educate employees on good practices such as rigorous hand washing and avoiding touching their face with unwashed hands, especially their eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Encourage rigorous hand washing upon completing work and/or removing non-medical masks or personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Provide workers with soap, clean running water, and single use paper towels for handwashing.
  • Provide wipes to remove organic material and ensure availability of alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not immediately available; and place them in multiple locations to encourage hand hygiene. If possible, choose hand sanitizer stations that are touch-free.
  • Consider other workplace programs to promote personal hygiene, such as:
    • adding additional short breaks into staff schedules to increase how often staff can wash their hands;
    • providing tissues and no-touch trash receptacles for employees to use; and
    • educating employees that cigarettes and smokeless tobacco use can lead to increased contact between potentially contaminated hands and their mouth, and that avoiding these products may reduce their risk of infection.
    • discourage sharing of personal items such as cellphones or lighters

Employers should also focus on increased sanitation and disinfection practices:

  • For tool-intensive operations, employers should ensure tools are regularly cleaned and disinfected, including each time employees change workstations or move to a new set of tools.
  • Establish protocols and provide supplies to increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfection in work and common spaces.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces in workspaces, break rooms, and washrooms (for example, microwave or refrigerator handles, vending machine touchpads, sink taps and washroom handles) at least once per shift, if possible. Frequently clean push bars and handles on any doors that do not open automatically and handrails on stairs or along walkways. If physical barriers are being used, then these should be cleaned frequently.
  • In taking action to prevent the spread of COVID-19, employers should not diminish the level of protection provided to employees performing cleaning and disinfection activities in manufacturing workplaces.
  • 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) to protect them from chemical hazards posed by disinfectants.
  • 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.

Modifications to the workplace when minimum physical distancing is not possible

For workplaces where physical distancing of at least 2 metres is not possible, look at potential modifications that can be made, such as installing physical barriers like acrylic or plastic sheets/curtains between individuals. These modifications should not create hazards for employees.

Place handwashing stations or hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol in multiple locations to encourage hand hygiene. If possible, choose hand sanitizer stations that are touch-free.

Masks and PPE in agriculture and food facilities

Several agriculture and food processing facilities use PPE, like N95 masks, for their day-to-day operations, as an occupational health and safety requirement (pre-COVID-19). The use of masks during the pandemic should not replace physical distancing, rigorous hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, nor should it replace the personal protective equipment requirements used by agriculture and food facilities pre-COVID-19.

Mask types and their uses

Respirators (N95 masks)

  • Respirators such as N95 masks must be conserved for health care settings and for individuals providing direct care to COVID-19 patients and are not recommended for use in the agriculture and agri-food sector as a means to reduce the risk of COVID-19.
  • However, if prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, an occupational health and safety risk assessment determined that an employee is required to wear a N95 mask or other PPE as part of normal operations to help control a specific workplace hazard, they should continue to do so.
  • N95 masks may be appropriate for workers performing screening duties and necessary for workers who may have to help an employee that starts to feel sick at work and has signs or symptoms of COVID-19. See sections Screening employees' health prior to entering the workplace and Dealing with positive cases in the workplace for more information.
    • N95 masks must be fitted to each individual wearer to ensure there is a proper seal so that no contaminate can leak in from around the face – a process called fit testing.

Medical masks

  • Like N95 masks, medical masks must be conserved for health care workers and others providing direct care to COVID-19 patients and are not recommended for use in the agriculture and agri-food sector to reduce the risk of COVID-19.
  • Medical masks, similar to N95 masks, may be appropriate for workers to wear when helping an employee who is sick, and showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19.
  • If someone in a shared living space needs to be within 2 metres of a potentially infected individual or provide direct care to the person, they should wear a medical masks, if available.
  • If an occupational health and safety risk assessment has determined that an employee is required to wear a medical mask as part of normal operations to mitigate a specific workplace hazard, they should continue to do so.

Non-medical masks

  • The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends the use of non-medical masks if physical distancing and modifications to the workplace are not consistently possible. This is an additional measure employees can take to protect others around them. Please remember to refer to local public health guidance for more information on what qualifies as a suitable non-medical mask.
  • Non-medical masks are also recommended for use when indoors with anyone outside your immediate household, or when advised by the local public health authority.
  • A non-medical mask may reduce the amount of large respiratory droplets that a person spreads when talking, shouting, sneezing, singing or coughing. Non-medical masks may prevent people who do not know they have the virus from spreading it to others.
  • It may not be practical for workers to wear the same cloth non-medical mask for the full duration of a work shift (for example, eight or more hours), particularly in humid workplaces like greenhouses or in areas where the non-medical masks will easily become wet or dirty. Employers should provide readily available clean cloth non-medical masks for workers to use when the coverings become wet, soiled, or otherwise visibly contaminated.
  • Non-medical masks are intended to protect other people—not the wearer.
  • Non-medical masks are not PPE. They are not appropriate substitutes for PPE such as respirators (like N95 masks) or medical masks in workplaces where respirators or masks are recommended or required to protect the wearer.
  • Employers should consider carefully the occupational requirements of their workers and their specific workplace configuration to ensure mitigation against any possible physical injuries that might inadvertently be caused by wearing a non-medical mask (for example, interfering with the ability to see or speak clearly, or become accidently lodged in the equipment the wearer is operating).
  • If it is determined that a non-medical mask should be worn in the workplace, masks should
    • fit over the nose and mouth, from the bridge of nose to the chin, and fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
    • be secured with ties or ear loops
    • be made of at least three layers:
      • two layers should be tightly woven material fabric, such as cotton or linen
      • the third (middle) layer should be a filter-type fabric, such as non-woven polypropylene fabric
    • allow for breathing without restriction
    • be laundered using laundry detergent (ideally unscented, as scented may lead to sneezing), the warmest appropriate water setting and machine dried daily after the shift, without damage or change to shape (a clean cloth non-medical mask should be used each day)
    • not be shared with others
    • not be used if they become wet or contaminated
    • be exchanged throughout the day with clean replacements, as needed
    • be handled as little as possible to prevent transferring infectious materials to the cloth and/or face
    • not be worn with, or instead of, respiratory protection when respirators are an occupational health and safety requirement
  • It is also important to stress hand hygiene before and after putting on and removing masks.
  • Wearing a mask alone will not prevent the spread of COVID-19. Consistently and strictly adhering to good hygiene and public health measures, including frequent hand washing and physical distancing where possible is always necessary.

Mask reprocessing and equivalencies

Using reprocessed filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs)

  • While it is preferable to use a new FFR each time it is required, due to critical shortages, Health Canada has authorized various decontamination methods for the reprocessing of single use FFRs. The intention is to extend the use of FFRs to provide the option of continued availability of these devices as a contingency measure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Only reprocessors reviewed under the Health Canada Interim Order (IO) are authorized for reprocessing of FFRs. The review of the reprocessors includes evidence of safe and effective decontamination of bacterial spores and Sars-CoV2 (or an equivalent) virus from contaminated masks in addition to post-reprocessing performance testing to determine that the reprocessed FFRs still meet the requirements of particle filtration efficiency, breathability, fit and head strap strength.
  • For more information, see Health Canada's Covid-19 medical masks and respirators: Reprocessing N95 respirators.

N95 mask equivalencies

  • Health Canada has approved a select number of alternative masks (including select KN95 models by specific manufacturers) that meet or exceed the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) standards. KN95 models that meet the filtration criteria continue to be sold and used as equivalent to NIOSH-certified N95 respirators. Public Services and Procurement Canada maintains a list of NIOSH N95 alternatives.

Sourcing masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE)

Essential Service Contingency Reserve

  • The Essential Service Contingency Reserve (ESCR) makes supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as non-medical masks and disinfection products, available to eligible essential service organizations or businesses, including in the food sector. Eligible organizations can apply to receive PPE to address urgent, short-term (45 days) needs.
  • Supplies are provided on a cost-recovery basis to businesses or organizations that cannot access supplies through other means and when significant service disruptions are imminent.

PPE federal supply hub

The Government of Canada PPE federal supply hub provides information for organizations buying and selling PPE. The hub provides resources and consumer guidance for PPE and is updated regularly.

Screening and dealing with underlying health issues

Employee with underlying health issue

  • Older adults, and people with immune compromising conditions and chronic diseases appear to be at greater risk of severe illness, so consideration should be given to protecting them from possible exposure to COVID-19 cases. However, the health status of employees/clients may not be disclosed to their employers. Workplaces/businesses cannot assume they know the health status of their employees.
  • Risk mitigation strategies include
    • emphasizing communication about risk to staff/clients
    • allowing those employees at risk of more severe illness (PDF) (for example, older adults, those with underlying medical conditions, and those with comprised immune systems) to continue to work remotely, where possible
    • encouraging the use of individual measures such as frequent hand hygiene, physical distancing, respiratory etiquette and staying home when sick
    • providing options to the medically-at-risk to reduce high risk close contacts at work, if possible

Screening employees' health prior to entering the workplace

Screening is one mitigation tool

  • Screening employees for COVID-19 before they enter the workplace each day has become a common practice in agriculture and food facilities, like processing plants, to identify asymptomatic persons, who may be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, and to decrease the possibility of virus transmission in the facility.
  • Options to screen all people entering a facility for COVID-19 symptoms could include:
    • Providing verbal screening to determine whether employees have had a fever, felt feverish, or had chills, coughing, or difficulty breathing in the past 24 hours.
    • Checking temperatures of employees at the start of each shift to identify anyone with a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or greater (or reported feelings of feverishness). Ensuring that screeners
      • are trained to use temperature monitors and monitors are accurate under conditions of use (such as cold temperatures)
      • wear appropriate PPE
    • Administering rapid tests to each employee prior to entry into the facility.
      • Emerging evidence shows that rapid antigen tests may provide another layer of support in preventing outbreaks in communal and high-risk settings where employees cannot maintain a 2 metre physical distance, such as agriculture and agri-food sector workplaces. They are used to detect asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic COVID-19 infections and to prevent outbreaks before they occur.
  • Due to its limitations, screening should be used to complement other mitigation strategies. Physical distancing, hand hygiene, and respiratory etiquette are still required, as they are among a broader set of behaviours that are effective in preventing the transmission of COVID-19. Measures include:
    • physical distancing (staying at least 2 metres apart)
    • staying home if sick, even if just mildly unwell
    • washing hands rigorously and frequently
    • avoiding touching the face
    • cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and objects
    • covering a cough with tissues or sleeve
    • wearing a non-medical mask when physical distancing is not always possible
    • using physical barriers such as transparent barriers, or other methods such as change of workflow, and taped floor spacing in public or work environments. When putting COVID-19 control measures in place, physical measures such as these may be more effective than changing worker behaviour
    • limiting contacts among employees by creating cohorts, staggering breaks, assigning seating, etc.

Limitations of screening

  • Fever is not usually the first symptom of COVID-19 and some people never develop a fever. Fever can also be suppressed by taking medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol). Implementing workplace screening measures based ONLY on taking temperatures to detect fever is therefore not recommended.
  • Some people may not show or feel any symptoms. These asymptomatic people may 'pass' health screening checks, but can still be carrying the virus and spread it in the workplace. Employers should not assume that an employee that passes a health screening check will not spread the virus to others. The value of rapid antigen testing as an additional tool is that the test can detect these asymptomatic and presymptomatic people.
  • Rapid tests should only be used for screening purposes. They are not to be used for diagnostic purposes. Additionally, testing does not prevent someone from getting COVID-19.
  • Rapid tests can provide both false negatives and, to a lesser extent, false positives because they are less sensitive compared to lab-based PCR tests. Despite their lower sensitivity, these tests are able to identify individuals carrying the virus who may transmit it to others. They are also effective at identifying individuals who have a high viral load, which may correlate with a greater risk of transmission to others.
  • A negative test may occur early in infection because viral loads are low; however, this does not mean the individual is virus-free. Control measures still need to be in place for all employees. To be effective, rapid antigen testing must be done on a regular basis.

Screening considerations

  • Passive screening relies on employees to self-monitor and notify their employer if they feel sick or consider that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. For customers, contractors and visitors, passive screening could be a notice posted on the door, an automated phone message, or a website listing symptoms and entry restrictions.
  • Active screening requires the employer to ask their employees questions about symptoms and potential exposure events before each work shift. This is particularly valuable when there are outbreaks in the community. Active screening steps may involve a self-assessment (for example, using a web-based tool, having a person complete a questionnaire, or having a designated person asking direct questions). It may even require screening each person before they enter the workplace for:
    • Potential exposure to COVID-19 in the past 14 days
    • Recent travel (international or domestic)
    • Contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19
    • Symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Do not let employees enter the workplace if they have a fever of 100.4℉ (38 C) or greater, if they reported feelings of feverishness, or if screening results indicate that the worker is suspected of having COVID-19.
    • Encourage employees to self-isolate and contact a healthcare provider.
    • Provide information on the facility's return-to-work policies and procedures.
    • Inform the human resource department and supervisor (so worker can be moved off schedule during illness and a replacement can be assigned, if needed).
  • Ensure that personnel performing screening activities, including temperature checks, are appropriately protected from exposure to potentially infectious individuals entering the facility:
    • Make modifications such as physical barriers, dividers or rope and crowd control systems, to maintain at least 2 metres of distance between screeners and employees being screened.
    • If screeners need to be within 2 metres of employees, provide them with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) (for example, gloves, a gown, a face shield, and, at a minimum, a N95 mask).
    • N95 masks may be appropriate for those performing screening duties and necessary for individuals helping an employee that becomes un-well in the work environment if that employee has signs or symptoms of COVID-19.
  • If a strategy to screen employees for COVID-19 symptoms (such as temperature checks and/or rapid testing) is implemented, policies and procedures for screening employees should be developed in consultation with local public health officials, and should be available to the employee in their first language. This should include translation into languages such as Spanish, Thai and Tagalog for temporary foreign workers.
  • Individuals authorized to administer rapid testing kits differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Guidelines issued by each province or territory and local public health authority, if applicable, must be followed in administering rapid tests.
  • Some individuals may be hesitant to get tested because of the potential for negative impacts from a positive test. These can include: concerns about losing a job, loss of income, social stigma or perceived or real impact on immigration status. Informing individuals about the benefits but also the implications and limitations of rapid testing to prevent misinformation will be key for successful implementation of rapid testing screening program at facilities.

Rapid testing in the workplace

  • To support workplaces, particularly those that have been at higher risk for outbreaks throughout the pandemic such as those in the agriculture and agri-food sectors, governments and the private sector have established a variety of pilots and initiatives to support the use of rapid testing. Initiatives to ease the implementation of rapid testing in workplaces include the provision of tests at no cost.

How to participate in a provincial rapid testing program?

Some provinces recognize the difficulties faced by industry in acquiring rapid testing kits and establishing a rapid testing strategy. To increase rapid test availability as a screening tool, to help Canadian organizations better protect their employees and to provide an additional tool to reduce community transmission and keep the economy running, many provinces have simplified the process for industry to acquire rapid testing kits.

  • Employers should reach out to their provincial government for more information regarding guidance, pilot projects and initiatives underway as well as any requirements for participation.
  • Some provinces and the private sector have developed specific guidance to support implementation of rapid antigen testing in workplaces. These resources can be accessed on the following webpage: Rapid tests for COVID-19 screening in the workplace.

How to participate in the federal rapid testing program?

  • The federal government has developed an initiative to provide rapid tests at no cost for regular workplace screening in critical industries. Priority workplaces are critical industries providing essential services with high contact workers, particularly those that are in geographical hotspots for COVID-19 outbreaks, have locations in multiple provinces/territories and/or are unable to secure supply from the relevant provinces/territories.
  • Participating organizations must be ready to implement a rapid screening program, and will be required to coordinate screening employees at their facility, administer tests according to the relevant provincial/territorial requirements, and collect and report usage data.
  • In order to facilitate the ordering process for rapid tests for workplace screening, Health Canada has launched an online portal for orders.

Dealing with positive cases in the workplace

Protocols for a positive rapid test result

  • Employees who receive a positive result through a rapid antigen test are considered "presumed positive" for COVID-19. A positive result should be followed up with a laboratory-based PCR test to confirm the result within 24 hours.
  • False positive tests are unlikely when the rapid antigen test is used according to the manufacturers instructions. When a person does test positive, they should seek out a PCR test to confirm the results.
  • The following actions should be taken by the employer:
    • Inform the employee that the result is a preliminary positive.
    • Direct the employee to put on a medical mask if available, stop work, isolate from others and contact their local public health authority and follow their advice.
    • Report the preliminary positive result to the local public health unit as soon as possible.
  • A preliminary positive result does not mean the site has an outbreak. The individual who tested positive is required to have a confirmatory PCR test. Local public health units will remain the authoritative body on the declaration of a COVID-19 outbreak, which will continue to be based on the presence of positive results following a confirmatory, lab-based PCR test.

If COVID-19 symptoms develop at work

  • Employees who appear to have symptoms (for example, fever, cough, or shortness of breath) upon arrival at work or who develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19 during the day should immediately be separated from others at the workplace and sent home. These employees should wear a medical mask (if available) and not take public transportation in order to return home.
  • Ensure that personnel that help sick employees are appropriately protected from exposure. When personnel need to be within 2 metres of a sick colleague, appropriate PPE may include gloves, a gown, a face shield and, at a minimum, a face mask.
  • If a case of COVID-19 is identified as being associated with an employee or a close contact of that employee, employers should work with local public health officials to facilitate the identification of other exposed and potentially exposed individuals.
  • If an employee reports symptoms, disinfect the workstation used and any tools handled by the sick worker.

Advanced preparation for an investigation into a positive case

  • Being prepared for an investigation following a positive case of COVID-19 in the workplace can help an employer react quickly to reduce the risk of further transmission and support business continuity.
  • Employers should be able to trace the points of contact of positive cases to support local health authorities. Advance preparations for contact tracing may include
    • A schematic diagram of the facility to assist positive cases in communicating their movement through the facility and identifying potential contacts.
    • Lists indicating which employees are sharing vehicles (for example, carpooling, shuttle buses) to and from work.
    • Centralized collection of visitor logs for essential visitors including contact information.
    • Confirmation of current contact information and a schedule for all contractors and delivery personnel regularly in the facility.
    • Ensuring that time-clock data is readily available in a format useful for contact tracing.
    • Establishing cohorts or work teams that work together on the same shift or in the same area of the business and take breaks together can also help to identify who has been in contact with whom, if/when a COVID-19 case were to occur. See Establishing cohorts or teams of employees for more information.
    • Maintaining records that provide details on the schedule and shift worked, the zone or place of work within the facility, assigned seating at lunch and breaks, start and end times, as well as entry and exit points for employees/work teams.

Protocols for contact with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19

  • The Public Health Agency of Canada provides guidance for classifying contacts as either high or low risk, depending on their exposure, for the purpose of determining recommended actions. For more information on types of risks and recommendations, refer to Table 1: Contact management recommendations by exposure risk level.
  • In the situation of a low risk exposure, employees may be permitted to continue work and where possible to avoid interactions with individuals at higher risk for severe illness. Employers will work with local public health to determine required approaches for each unique situation.

Business closure

  • Closing a business following a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace is a decision that a business needs to take in consultation with the local public health authority.
  • A number of factors should be taken into consideration when making that decision, including how many cases have been identified in the workplace, the degree of contact that the sick person had with coworkers, the extent of spread within the community, and the measures in place to rapidly identify any sick employees and prevent further transmission in the workplace, and the time it may take to put in place additional mitigation/control measures.

Return to work protocols

Following signs/symptoms or a confirmed case of COVID-19

  • Workers with COVID-19 who have symptoms and have self-isolated should not return to work until they have met the criteria to discontinue self-isolation, and have consulted with their healthcare providers and local public health departments.
  • Employers should consult their local public health authority for return to work protocols as these may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and with individual situations.
  • The situation continues to change, so employers will need to continue to reassess the virus' transmission levels in their area and follow recommendations from local public health officials.
  • Public health authorities will make the decision in contact tracing and who needs to isolate/quarantine. The local Public Health Authority will contact anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 (known as a case) and will work with that person to identify and notify their close contacts as needed. See the section on Protocols for contact with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 for more information.