In most parts of Ontario, the crisp autumn air has arrived—and colourful leaves aren’t the only things that come with it. As mother nature transitions to fall, it’s time for employers to address some returning hazards that may not have been top of mind throughout the summer.
Respiratory virus season is coming
“I think we’re all much more knowledgeable about how to manage the spread of respiratory illnesses post-COVID,” says Toni Volpato, Specialized Consultant (Occupational Hygiene) with WSPS, as she reminds us that this time of year brings more cold and flu viruses. “It’s a good time to remind your employees to get back to the basics when it comes to preventing the spread of these viruses—things like proper handwashing, not touching our faces, and staying home when we’re sick,” says Toni. “It’s also a good time to remind people to follow public health recommendations,” she says. Kristin Onorato, Health and Safety Specialty Lead with WSPS points out that it’s the employer’s responsibility to establish the workplace culture around illness. “Employers need to encourage workers to stay home when they are sick. They need to make sure that no one feels obligated to come to work if they aren’t feeling well,” she says.
9 tips to keep your workers safe
In addition to dealing with respiratory viruses, autumn is when employers need to turn their attention to indoor air quality, temperature control, and lighting. As the days become shorter, another thing to consider is the psychological effect increased darkness may have on employees.
Here are 9 recommendations from Toni and Kristin to help create safer workplaces as we move into fall.
- Provide proper backup when employees are sick. Provide your employees with the support and resources they need to take a sick day. Ensure that plans are in place to cover day-to-day responsibilities, so that employees know it’s okay to stay home.
- Check your HVAC system. It really is key to good indoor air quality. Ensure your HVAC system is operating properly, regular maintenance is being done, and vents or ducts are not blocked (e.g., leaves or nests).
- Maintain a comfortable indoor temperature. Ontario Regulation 851 requires enclosed workplaces to be at least 18 degrees Celsius; however, a best practice is to ensure the comfort of at least 80% of those inside the building. Temperature preferences can vary greatly and can be affected by many factors, such as air and radiant temperature, humidity, air movement, clothing, and a person’s level of activity. Find a range that works best for most people.
- Conduct an indoor air quality (IAQ) assessment. If employees complain about symptoms—such as headaches, congestion, or nose bleeds—that increase while at work, but seem better outside of work, it could be due to a build-up of air contaminants. Completing an IAQ will measure air contaminants and identify controls.
- Take advantage of daytime sunlight. As the days inevitably become shorter, many of us are going to work in the dark and returning home in the dark. Help your staff cope with this seasonal change by encouraging them to get outside for a walk during breaks or lunch while the sun is up.
- Adjust outdoor lighting. With the sun setting earlier, check the lights in parking lots, sidewalks, and other walkways to make sure they turn on early enough to ensure good visibility.
- Talk to employees about the effects of time change. Acknowledge that darker mornings and then the upcoming switch back to Standard Time can affect sleep patterns and lead to fatigue until our bodies adjust. Remind employees to take their time getting to work, rather than rushing while tired.
- Prepare for the first snowfall. Don’t wait until it happens. Check shovels, get salt, and arrange for snow removal services. If you have everything in place now, you’ll be ready when the snow comes.
- Recognize that this time of year may bring more stressors. When kids return to school and extracurricular activities, juggling their schedules with work can be stressful for parents. Give your workers the flexibility they need to maintain a good work-life balance.
How WSPS can help
Connect with a WSPS Occupational Hygienist to complete an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Assessment at your workplace.
- Psychological Health and Safety Awareness Training (eCourse, 20 minutes)
- Workplace Mental Health: Raising Awareness (eCourse, 1 hour)
- Workplace Inspections Training (eCourse, 1 hour)
- Indoor Air Quality (eCourse, 1 hour)
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.