Canadian HR Reporter

November 2021 CAN

Canadian HR Reporter is the national journal of human resource management. It features the latest workplace news, HR best practices, employment law commentary and tools and tips for employers to get the most out of their workforce.

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2 N E W S metaphor, this is a little bit like when you play chess — you quickly discovered that your adversary is not cooperating with your plan." And when we think about the difference between airborne and large droplet transmission, some of the things that we had very firmly put in place really don't make sense. And at the same time, there's a whole bunch of new opportunities to make some changes, says Colin Furness, assistant professor at the Institute for Health Policy Management and Evaluation, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, at the University of Toronto. "So, there's the state of things that we are still doing, and then there [are] some enlightened things that we are not yet doing." For example, we now know that aerosols are dangerous, but we haven't actually adjusted best practices to accommodate that. "There's no question that's a concern." Since the airborne transfer of exhaled aerosol droplets is now understood to be the primary mode of COVID-19 transmission, more emphasis should be placed on improving ventilation and filtration and encouraging mask use, rather than deep cleaning surfaces, installing cough or sneeze barriers, or enforcing strict distancing beyond three feet, says Martin Bazant, professor of chemical engineering and mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "These scientific findings have all been acknowledged by the CDC and WHO over the past year but have not been communicated effectively to local policy makers." Fixated on surface cleaning Having learned that the virus spreads predominantly via an airborne route, that may have in large amounts some toxic side effect as well…. This is a virus that's relatively fragile, and usual soap and detergent are quite sufficient to clean surfaces and disinfect and inactivate the infectivity of these viruses." Part of the problem is that earlier research didn't provide an accurate picture of the risks of surfaces. For example, the conditions used for some studies were artificial, says Emanuel Goldman, professor of microbiology, biochemistry and molecular genetics at the New Jersey Medical School. "They controlled temperature and humidity to be at the optimum [level] for the virus. And in the real world, that's a variable temperature, humidity. One study from Australia that made headlines all over the world kept the virus in the dark, and the virus is killed by mites. And that same study added a protein to the virus deposit called bovine serum albumin, that's a cow protein. And it was already published that that protein protects the virus." Plus, viruses on a surface still have to reach a person's lungs, and that's not easy, he says. One study found a 10 per cent transfer rate of the virus from a surface to the fingers, meaning that 90 per cent of the virus is gone. "You still have to touch your nose, mouth or eyes with live virus to self- inoculate." The big problem is it's really hard to measure that risk, says Furness. "The idea that at the grocery store, for example, the moving rubber mats that you put your groceries on — the whole idea [that] all has to be disinfected, or that you can' t bring your own shopping bags in — those sorts of rules are excessive." Cleaning the handles on the grocery carts, however, may not save a person things like surface cleaning and constant disinfection may be helpful for other infectious diseases but are "very unimportant" for COVID-19, says Marissa Baker, program director of the Dept. of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington. "And if you have limited time and limited resources and your primary concern is COVID-19, then time and effort is better spent with other controls," she says. "Maybe, for the sake of COVID, [it's about] relaxing on some of the cleaning but keeping in mind that it is protective against other infectious diseases, which typically take workers out as well." We n o w k n o w t h a t c o n t a c t transmission was overplayed at the beginning of the pandemic, and while it probably happens, it's not the dominant route, says Tellier. "This mode of transmission has been overplayed. And there have been also some excesses that have been done in this, such as excessive decontamination of surfaces with very powerful disinfectant from COVID but it's going to help with other diseases, he says. "It's one of those things where I think we should deemphasize it, but I wouldn't actually recommend that we stop doing it." Plexiglass dividers Another area that has come under greater scrutiny is the use of plexiglass shields, which were erected when it was thought that large droplets were predominant, but they are not so good against the aerosol, because aerosol can follow air currents that go around them, says Tellier. "Depending on the particular geometry of the room where you are or [where] you put them, and the ventilation system that you have, there are some setups in which these plexiglass shields can form some sort of wind tunnel that will concentrate aerosol in some areas. So, in some settings, they might increase the risk of aerosol contact." When you're dealing with an airborne disease where the particles are very light, and they can diffuse, those barriers really don't offer much protection, says Baker. "In some instances, if they're blocking existing ventilation, they can create more of a problem, they can cause there to be a buildup right behind them. So, people actually could be more exposed." If for example there's a booth where a worker is completely sealed in except for a microphone, that could be valuable, because it's fully blocking where the particles can go, she says. "In some sense, yes, they are providing a false sense of protection. But at the same time… we've come to associate those with a place that is trying to protect people. And so, it's kind of a visual cue that this workplace is taking steps to keep their workers safe." ONTARIO ENFORCES SAFETY PROTOCOLS Source: Ontario government "There's the state of things that we are still doing, and then there's some enlightened things that we are not yet doing." Colin Furness, University of Toronto $1,000 Amount corporations can be fined for failing to comply with new safety legislation. $750 Amount individuals, including employees and patrons, can be fined for failing to comply. $100,000 Amount individuals can be fined for more serious offences. $500,000 Amount directors and officers of a corporation can be fined for more serious offences. COVID safety> pg. 1

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