Many Waterloo Region businesses inspected for COVID-19 safety not fully compliant with rules
WATERLOO -- Many businesses in the Waterloo Region inspected for COVID-19 safety this year were not fully compliant with the rules, statistics from the Ministry of Labour show.
The Ministry of Labour conducted more than 1,100 COVID-19 field visits between Jan. 1 and May 28 of this year, with inspectors issuing more than 960 orders and 40 tickets.
Most of the violations were related to screening requirements, lack of safety plans, personal protective equipment and capacity limits, according to the Ministry.
“We’ve inspected workplaces regularly throughout the pandemic, but it is important business owners and supervisors continue following health and safety best practices that have helped us get this far," Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said in a statement.
In addition to the above inspections, a team of provincial offences officers from across ministries have conducted a series of safety campaigns in Waterloo Region, some of which were targeted at big box stores.
This team visited more than 660 workplaces and observed 370 COVID-19 safety contraventions.
During this campaign, which saw officers visit 280 restaurants, 260 retail stores, 60 fitness centres and 50 personal care services, more than 90 orders and 40 tickets were issued.
Across Ontario, there were more than 25,000 COVID-19 related field visits completed between Jan. 1 and May 18 this year. During those visits, more than 22,000 orders and more than 600 tickets were issued.
When inspectors find a contravention of the Occupational Health and Safety Act or of emergency COVID-19 safety protocols, they issue orders to the workplace to bring them into compliance. Multiple orders can be issued to the same business.
Tickets are issued when there is a violation of a scheduled offence and inspectors consider a set fine as an appropriate deterrent, depending on the circumstances of the case.
"In general, what we have seen through workplace outbreaks in Waterloo Region, is that transmission occurs when there is a lapse in measures or measures are implemented inconsistently," Dr. Ryan Van Meer, the region's associate medical officer of health, said in an email. "For example, physical distancing not consistently practiced in break or lunch rooms."
Dr. Van Meer said close contact remains the predominant COVID-19 transmission type in the area, adding workplace outbreaks are often a reflection of community trends.
"As cases increase in the community it’s expected that workplace outbreaks will follow," he said.
He also stressed the importance of following health and safety requirements in the workplace, such as screening, staying home when sick, wearing a mask as well as proper ventilation.
To assist businesses with following COVID-19 safety guidelines, the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce launched chambercheck.ca, an online tool that connects business owners with resources and guidelines.
"Businesses want to do the right thing," said chamber president Ian McLean. "They need the information and tools to do the right thing."
The chamber has also piloted a COVID-19 rapid screening project, providing small and medium-sized businesses with free rapid tests.
McLean said he's pushing to get higher-quality masks into the hands of business owners and employees to combat airborne transmission of COVID-19.
The region has also launched an ambassador program where a representative from the chamber meets one-on-one with business owners to help ensure they are following all the proper protocols.
"We have to have new tools as we start to come out of this in June and July," he said. "The only thing worse than the third wave is a fourth wave. It would be catastrophic for businesses that are hanging on right now and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."
Despite the Ministry of Labour's statistics showing a relatively low compliance rate among inspected businesses, McLean said he believes most are trying in earnest to follow COVID-19 safety protocols.
"By and large, the businesses that have had those inspections, they just come into compliance as quickly as they may have fallen short," he said, adding confusion around changing COVID-19 guidelines has been a challenge for some business owners.
"I find it really difficult to find the information. You really have to drill down on the internet to figure out where we are and what it means for a small business like mine," said Sylvia Horn, owner of Gifted.
She said the small business community is leaning on each other for support and to navigate changing protocols.
"We kind of rely on each other to figure out what it means for businesses our size," Horn said.
Ahead of the economic reopening in June, McLean is optimistic businesses will following COVID-19 safety guidelines.
"The vast majority are adhering to the rules," McLean said. "There isn’t a business owner that I've come in contact with … who aren't wanting to do the right thing."
WHAT OTHERS SAID:
"The vast majority of businesses follow the rules … and are careful to do so because they know it's for the well-being of employees and customers," said Dr. Nicola Mercer, the top public health doctor for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph. "We have had a few businesses locally that have tried to skirt the rules … but it hasn't been a significant issue locally."
"I know our uptown businesses have worked hard and invested a lot of time, energy and funds into renovating their buildings and updating their practices to comply to public health guidelines to keep their employees and customers safe and their businesses open," said Tracy Van Kalsbeek, executive director of the Uptown Waterloo BIA. "They continue to adapt their protocols as they learn more about what measures they need to put in place to be in compliance."