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Considering Sanitary Standards for Quebec’s Deconfinement and Economic Relaunch

By Natalie Bussière, Francis Laperrière Racine and Pierre-Philippe Turnbull (Articling Student)
May 5, 2020

On April 28, 2020, Quebec’s Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) released a virtual toolkit for Quebec employers and workers, with the purpose of ensuring the successful reopening of workplaces across the province following their shutdown to counter the spread of COVID‑19. Developed in collaboration with the Direction de la santé publique, the toolkit includes the Workplace Sanitary Standards Guide – COVID-19 (Guide), as well as quick reference guides for employers and workers.


With a view to mitigate and control COVID‑19-related risks, the Guide proposes various measures to be adapted to each workplace and sector. In addition to preventive measures specific to COVID-19, the CNESST also wants employers to consider other risks related to their usual operations, such as work reorganization, maintenance, etc. The recommendations included in the Guide will be adapted as the situation evolves and aligned with future guidance provided by the Direction de la santé publique.

According to the Guide, the implementation of these measures is essential to preventing risky situations related to COVID-19 and to planning a safe resumption of activities for employers and workers. Once implemented, these measures must remain in place in an effective manner.

The Guide is divided into three sections: Biological Risk related to COVID-19; Work-Related Psychosocial Risks; and Legal Obligations with respect to Occupational Health and Safety. The following is a summary of the Guide:

Biological Risk

According to Quebec’s Direction de la santé publique, COVID-19 is transmitted most often through droplets produced by an infected person, as well by hands carrying the virus. COVID-19 may survive for a few hours on inert objects with dry surfaces and a few days on inert objects with moist surfaces.

Employers must therefore identify the risks of COVID-19 transmission in their work environment. Employers must also attempt to reduce and control such risks. The prevention measures prioritized by the CNESST are based on the following five principles:

1. Exclusion of Symptomatic Persons from the Workplace

According to authorities, a person with COVID-19 is part of the chain of transmission of the virus, and procedures must be put in place to prevent any such transmission. The Guide recommends the following procedures: (1) identifying workers with COVID-19 symptoms prior to entry into the workplace, using, among other means, a list of questions to be answered by workers; and (2) isolating workers who start presenting symptoms in the workplace.

2. Physical Distancing

Whenever possible, a minimum distance of two metres must be kept between each person in the workplace. Hugs and handshakes are to be avoided.

When such distancing directives cannot be applied in the workplace, the CNESST recommends making adjustments to limit the risk of transmission. These adjustments should take into account the workplace itself, as well the risks of transmission that are specific to it. Adjustments may include teleworking, physical barriers, changes to the organization of work methods—such as smaller work teams, elimination of task rotations, etc.—and providing workers with personal protective equipment.

3. Hand Washing

The Guide recommends frequent hand washing to limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace.

4. Respiratory Etiquette

The Guide also recommends observing respiratory etiquette, which consists of covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, using single-use tissues and properly discarding used tissues, washing your hands frequently, and refraining from touching your mouth and eyes.

5. Maintaining Hygiene Measures for Tools, Equipment and Frequently Touched Surfaces

Given that COVID-19 may survive on inert objects, the Guide indicates that hygiene measures should be maintained to reduce the risks of transmission through surfaces. It is therefore important to ensure that the workplace’s ventilation systems are maintained and operate efficiently. Furthermore, sanitary facilities, frequently touched surfaces and shared tools/equipment should be cleaned at least once every shift and disinfected daily, meal areas should be cleaned after each meal and disinfected daily, appropriate cleaning products should be used and non-essential items should be removed from common areas.

Work-Related Psychosocial Risks

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CNESST notes that special attention should be paid to the psychosocial health of personnel.

While working from home is encouraged to limit the risk of transmitting the virus, employers should be aware of cyberharassment and other sources of stress that can occur when employees are working remotely. Employers should define expected behaviours, as well as behaviours that are deemed inappropriate.

Employers are invited to create discussion forums that foster social support among workers. This would help maintain harmonious labour relations and provide the necessary means for anyone to discuss workplace situations that are perceived as problematic.

The Guide reminds employers of the importance of early detection of the symptoms of psychological distress among employees, in order to direct such employees to available resources, when necessary.

Other Obligations

According to the Guide, employers must ensure that occupational health and safety measures are appropriate for the risks associated with COVID-19. If existing measures are insufficient, the employer must modify them to protect workers from these risks. Employers must also inform their workers about the risks related to their work, including risks related to COVID-19. Employers must also provide workers with the appropriate training, supervision and coaching so that all workers have the skills and knowledge required to safely perform the work assigned to them.

As with all other rules applicable in the workplace, workers must comply with measures implemented to stop the transmission of the virus.

Finally, employers should also inform their suppliers, subcontractors, partners and, if applicable, customers of the measures they have implemented with respect to COVID-19.


The toolkit also includes quick reference guides on the following subjects: Reopening the Work Environment; Physical Distancing; Hygiene and Respiratory Etiquette; Sanitary Environment; Exclusion from the Workplace and Isolation of Workers; Work-Related Psychosocial Risks; and a Daily Checklist. These interactive and printable guides are intended to help employers put in place appropriate measures in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For further information, please contact:
Natalie Bussière           514-982-4080
Aldona C. L. Gudas       514-982-5050
Catherine Gagné          514-982-4085
Francis L. Racine           514-982-4149
Sarah Rohmann            514-982-4120

Please visit our COVID-19 Resource Centre to learn more about how COVID-19 may impact your business.