A BCNU health and safety phone line has been established to respond to nurses who have occupational health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to escalate across the province. This phone line is available to all nurses who require urgent assistance 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
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According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, most cases are considered mild to moderate with a subset experiencing more severe illness with shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. There have been deaths reported involving older adults with underlying conditions.
If you're concerned you've been exposed to, or are experiencing symptoms of the novel coronavirus, please:
Contact your primary care provider, local public health office or call 811 immediately.
Report the incident as soon as possible to your supervisor, and to your worksite's employee incident reporting process.
Inform your BCNU Joint Occupational Health and Safety Representative and site steward.
File a WorkSafeBC claim for medical treatment and/or time away from work.
The BC Ministry of Health has developed an online COVID-19 self-assessment tool to determine whether you may need further assessment or testing. The province has also created a phone service to provide non-medical information about COVID-19, available in 110 languages. Call 1-888-COVID19 (1-888-268-4319) between 7:30am - 8pm PST.
The BC Center for Disease Control (BC CDC) reports that COVID-19 is transmitted via large liquid droplets when a person coughs or sneezes and can enter through these droplets through the eyes, nose or throat if in close contact with an infected person.Significant additional information is still required to fully understand the cause of the outbreak, how the disease is transmitted, and the severity of illness it causes in humans.
The BC CDC and BC’s Provincial Health Officer (PHO) have recommended that health care workers use droplet and contact precautions for all interactions with clients who have suspected, presumed or a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis. Contact and droplet precautions include gloves, eye protection (face shields or goggles), gowns, and surgical masks.
N-95 (commonly referred to as N-95 masks) respirators must be used by health care workers involved in aerosol-generating procedures including but not limited to:
Intubation, extubation and related procedures
CPR with bag valve mask ventilation
Bronchoscopy and bronchoalveolar lavage
High concentration oxygen therapy
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP)
Open airway suctioning
Nasopharyngeal aspirates, washes and scoping
Autopsies involving respiratory tissues
An N-95 respirator (or N-95 mask) is an air-purifying respirator that requires a close facial fit in order to block 95% of airborne particles from entering a person’s respiratory tract. The BC CDC has published supporting guidance for respiratory protection here.
Nurses must use their clinical and professional judgement with respect to the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) and the most appropriate PPE for the circumstances. If staff have any questions or concerns about the type of PPE to use, or correct donning/doffing practices, they must contact the Health Authorities/PHC infection control resource, occupational health and safety staff, or their supervisor to request advice. If the above-mentioned PPE and guidance are not available, speak to your manager or contact your union representative.
BCNU and the Health Authorities/PHC will work together to implement strategies that focus on eliminating or minimizing the risk of hazardous exposures to keep healthcare workers safe. If there is a shortage of personal protective equipment, employers and BCNU will develop contingency plans to protect the health and safety of healthcare providers.
The BCNU supports the use of the precautionary principle in health care facilities to minimize potential risks of exposure and transmission of COVID-19. It is important that BCNU members understand their OH&S rights in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak as well as engineering and administrative controls, and the types of PPE available to minimize risk of exposure and transmission.
All workers in BC have the overall right to a safe workplace. Specifically, you have:
The right to know about the hazards and controls in the workplace
The right to participate in OH&S activities
The right to refuse unsafe work if an undue hazard is present
The right to no discrimination for participating in OH&S activities
You have the right to know about COVID-19 risks, what the employer has done to protect you from COVID-19, and what you must do to protect yourself from COVID-19.
Your employer must provide you with education, training and supervision to work safely with, and in proximity to, COVID-19.
A comprehensive, site specific exposure control plan (ECP) based on the precautionary principle for COVID-19 is required at every workplace in accordance with Section 5.54 and Section 6.34 of the OH&S Regulation.
You must ensure that you are comfortable applying the information, education and training provided to you to do your work safely. Don’t hesitate to ask your employer questions or ask to be re-trained if anything is unclear.
The employer is legally required to investigate the reported unsafe condition and ensure that any necessary corrective action is taken without delay in accordance with Section 3.10 of the OH&S Regulation:
3.10 Reporting unsafe conditionsWhenever a person observes what appears to be an unsafe or harmful condition or act the person must report it as soon as possible to a supervisor or to the employer, and the person receiving the report must investigate the reported unsafe condition or act and must ensure that any necessary corrective action is taken without delay.
An unsafe condition might be not knowing how to access appropriate PPE for a work process, not having the training to use the PPE correctly or not being instructed in the facility’s exposure control plan for COVID-19.
You have the right to participate in OH&S activities in the workplace. You could participate in COVID-19 planning by:
Requesting education and training on the effective use of engineering and administrative controls and PPE (if not provided yet).
Requesting that your fit testing is up to date if you require use of an N-95 at work.
Following policies and procedures that have been communicated to you to minimize risk of exposure.
Asking questions about any information provided that is unclear (or not provided) by your employer.
Provide feedback to your employer on ways to improve existing controls and suggestions for additional controls.
Keep your BCNU Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee member and/or site steward involved and up to date.
Report all workplace incidents to your employer via Workplace Health Call Centre, PSLS, verbal conversations and follow up emails.
To report a workplace incident that impacted you physically, psychologically or emotionally, please call the Workplace Health Call Center at 1-866-922-9464. Time spent reporting workplace incidents is considered time worked for the employer and therefore you must be paid at the applicable rate of pay.
Download Refusal of Unsafe Work Flowchart
You have the right to refuse unsafe work if you have reasonable cause to believe that to do so would create an undue hazard to the health and safety of any person. The procedure for refusal is outlined in Section 3.12 of the OH&S Regulation.
What is an undue hazard?
A "hazard" is identified in Part 1 of the Regulation as "a thing or condition that may expose a person to a risk of injury or occupational disease." Further, "undue" is defined by the Oxford dictionary as "unwarranted, inappropriate, excessive or disproportionate." Therefore, a thing or condition that may expose a worker to an excessive or unwarranted risk of injury or occupational disease represents an undue hazard for the purposes of section 3.12 of the Regulation.
What is reasonable cause?
"Reasonable cause to believe"
The use of the term "reasonable" in "reasonable cause to believe" means that the worker must assess the situation as a reasonable person, taking into account relevant and available information and exercising good faith judgment with respect to the hazard with due regard to the worker's training and experience.
"Reasonable cause to believe" and the susceptible worker
Some workers may have an underlying condition which would lead them to suffer an illness or sustain an injury, even though others would not be affected in the same way. In this so-called "susceptible worker" situation, the "objective " test of whether the worker has reasonable cause to believe the work presents an undue hazard is to be applied in the context of the person's specific health condition.
To uphold a work refusal, there needs to be a clear connection between the undue hazard asserted by the susceptible worker, and his or her health condition. As part of the investigation into the refusal, the employer may ask for confirming evidence of the effect of the hazard on the person's condition. While the evidence is being obtained, the worker should be removed from the condition that the worker asserts is an undue hazard.
You have the right to no discrimination for participating in OH&S activities at work including enacting your right to refuse. Please contact a BCNU steward or JOHS rep immediately if you are concerned that this right is being violated.
If you suspect you have been exposed to COVID-19, please contact 8-1-1, your primary care provider or local public health office via phone immediately.
Health care workers who have been directed by a qualified medical practitioner to self-isolate due to potential exposure to COVID-19 will be provided a general paid leave of absence for the duration of the recommended self-isolation period. More specific details to be provided in a separate member bulletin.
If you are concerned about the level of training or preparedness in your worksite, please contact a BCNU steward. You can find a list of worksite contacts on the Member Portal, under the Contacts tab.
The steps involved in a point of care risk assessment and making clinical judgement have been simplified for the purposes of the flow chart. Nurses conduct point of care risk assessments and make clinical judgements constantly before, during and after care.
COVID-19 CASE SUSPECTED OR CONFIRMED IN YOUR WORK AREAConduct point of care risk assessment. Follow existing infection control policies and procedures as well as contact and droplet precautions including:
Vigilant hand hygiene
Gloves, eye protection, gown, surgical mask, etc.
USE CLINICAL JUDGEMENT TO DETERMINE WHETHER ADDITIONAL PRECAUTIONS ARE REQUIREDAdditional precautions may include N-95 respirators or PAPRs
IF ADDITIONAL PRECAUTIONS ARE REQUIRED, REQUEST THEM FROM YOUR EMPLOYERVerbal conversation and follow up email to document the conversation
FOLLOW EXISTING SITE PROCEDURES ISOLATE AND MASK PATIENTRefer to written procedures outlined to you by your employer
NOTIFY A BCNU STEWARD IMMEDIATELY IF YOU HAVE TROUBLE GETTING ACCESS TO ADDITIONAL PRECAUTIONS OR OTHER SAFE WORK PROCEDURES.Find your steward on the BCNU Member Portal
For more information:
BC Centre for Disease Control
World Health Organization
Confirm the employer has site-specific engineering and administrative controls to minimize risk of exposure.
Know the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) available for workers at your site, and any related policies and procedures for PPE usage.
Follow up with BCNU members to find out if they are trained in administrative and engineering controls, and effective use of PPE.
If you know BCNU members who may be at high risk of exposure to communicable diseases (e.g. Emergency Room nurses, Public Health nurses) who don’t have updated mask fit testing, formally request testing ASAP.
Encourage members to request applicable training in the exposure control plan, developed to minimize risk of exposure.
Inform members of their right to refuse unsafe work in accordance with Section 3.12 of OH&S Regulation.
Facilitate a BCNU steward and JOHS rep meeting to discuss action planning.
Add COVID-19 to your next JOHS Committee meeting agenda.
To prompt discussion at your meeting, consider the following:
Review Section 5.1 - 5.2, 5.54 and 6.33 – 6.40 of the OH&S Regulation as a committee . Then, confirm the employer is compliant with each subsection—especially related to communication to workers.
Does the employer have a site-specific exposure control plan for COVID-19, and a plan to inform workers
Request the worksite’s plan to keep employees safe if a worker is infected. Ask for the written procedure to share with all employees.
Request mask fit testing records of all workers in the facility. Follow up on those who have not been fit tested in the last year.
Communicate with the steward team at your site and coordinate activities and communication with the employer.
Ensure all key discussion points, action items and related timelines are documented clearly in the minutes.
Follow up with members at your facility to find out if they have concerns, fears or any requests related to COVID-19.
Document your conversations with members.
Reach out to your regional OH&S rep for assistance in determining a plan of actions to address concerns.
Know your Health Authority’s pandemic response plan and refer to it when supporting members with site specific issues.
Connect with the JOHS Committee reps in your region to support their JOHS Committee discussions and activities related to COVID-19.
Keep the Union head office and executive in the loop on regional/site updates.
Facilitate conversations between site stewards and site JOHS Committee reps.
604-433-2268 (press 1)Toll Free 1-800-663-9991 (press 1)
COVID-19: Guide for Members
Flowchart: Right to Refuse Unsafe Work
COVID-19 Self Assessment Tool
PBC COVID-19 Website
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