Businesses are slowly beginning to reopen across Canada and employers are planning their return to work strategies. This may include implementing new controls in order to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 at the workplace. Controls may range from installation of physical barriers at workplace locations to staggering work hours and/or recommendations for personal protective equipment to be worn.
One control that employers should also be considering is contact tracing. But what is contact tracing and how might that be implemented in a workplace?
Contact tracing has been a key disease control measure for decades. Public Health Ontario describes contact tracing as a "process that is used to identify, educate and monitor individuals who have had close contact with someone who is infected with a virus. These individuals are at a higher risk of becoming infected and sharing the virus with others. Contact tracing can help the individuals understand their risk and limit further spread of the virus".
The concept should be the same for tracing potential exposure of COVID-19 within a workplace. While contact tracing is a specialized skill, there are ways that an employer may implement this process.
One method of contact tracing is to take daily attendance at the workplace. Because workers may be working both at the workplace and remotely, and their schedules may be varied, it is important that daily attendance is taken. Workplaces may already have mechanisms in place for tracking attendance, either through scanning of ID badges or physically clocking into a time clock. It is important that a method for collecting attendance data is implemented and monitored at the workplace. In the event the employer is informed that a worker who recently attended at the workplace has developed symptoms or has been confirmed to have COVID-19, it is critical that the employer be able to trace back when the worker was actually at the workplace and the other workers he or she came into contact with. With confidentiality in mind, the employer needs to advise potentially exposed workers of the potential contact and to ensure they self-monitor and conduct daily self-assessments for symptoms of COVID-19.
Workers may have concerns or questions regarding daily attendance, particularly if this is something new. It is important that workers understand that contact tracing is a preventive measure in supporting the health and safety of all workers at the workplace. A better understanding of who has attended the workplace during a particular period of time, and potentially other workers they may have come in close contact with, will help stop any additional chains of transmission by encouraging those who may have been potentially exposed to self-isolate and monitor their symptoms.
As with any new measure or procedure being implemented, instructions should be clearly communicated to workers so that they understand the methods, the reasons and the importance of these new changes in the workplace.
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