Technical Corner

Will We Really Ever Completely Turn The Corner on COVID?

March 2022

The ORFA Provincial COVID Task Team recently met to discuss the newest changes to the COVID Regulation and how it will be applied in their operations. This type of dialogue has almost been a weekly scrum. The ORFA cannot recall any other provincial regulation that was so fluid, with so many different opinions in interpreting and applying the governance. Really, this is true of every code, act, regulation or advisory, as each allows the people responsible to apply compliance based on their specific operations but certainly not as magnified by all stakeholders. Only when a governing body attends a recreation operation to evaluate an issue will these decisions truly be analyzed to determine if on-site administrative staff were truly being diligent.

The ORFA Provincial Task Team agreed that change is in the air and that the likelihood of the levels of restrictions that were applied at the height of the pandemic will ever return is limited. There was general consensus that we are going to have to learn to live with COVID moving forward. What this means is that it will be a balance of personal choice and workplace culture. Really, a decision of how much personal risk each person is ready to accept based on the available information and their personal circumstance. Consider “Howie Mandel” who struggles with an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety. He lives everyday with a fear of contracting a fatal illness, which was exacerbated by the pandemic. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, he would wear a mask and self-isolate when family members were sick. Society should expect an increase in this behaviour as we emerge from the pandemic. One of the issues being expressed by those occupying Ottawa in an attempt to force change to their way of thinking. This includes the shaming and abusive behaviour towards citizens who embrace the science and wear a mask along with the other recommended control measures without knowing these individuals’ personal health condition, who they may be a caregiver to, or what their employment might include as required safety measures. Even if the white flag was waved today proclaiming the pandemic was over, there will still be people who will continue to embrace the scientific principals of basic virus protection against contracting the virus. As an employer, we will need to decide what personal protective equipment (PPE) and/or other virus protection measures will be provided as we move forward.

The ORFA has added accessibility matters to our priorities of better understanding and informing the membership of regulated responsibilities as well as our moral obligations to keep public recreation facilities within reach for all. We continue to learn of the complexities associated with the subject. When accessibility is raised, the immediate focus becomes ramps, parking, and seating – we naturally drift towards those with mobility challenges and give all the other accessibility conditions little thought. Consider users with limited vision or hearing loss and how we are supporting their needs. Often because they lack what might be considered a recognizable restriction, we fail to respond. We are preparing to release a resource on emergency management preparedness to facilitate a much-needed discussion on this topic. Consider how much has been invested in ensuring accessibility to public facilities with little to no thought on how we would respond during an emergency to assist in evacuation. Stay tuned for more on this topic. As we reopen our facilities will virus protection form part of our required safe accessibility plans for persons who may be more vulnerable than others.

The COVID Provincial Task Team discussed the issue of having our users interpret the regulation as it was changed. One of the largest issues is a failure by the public to understand that “just because the province said we can operate a certain way, doesn’t mean we have to”. Each operation must comply to the COVID regulation in real time and that does not mean that there cannot be additional or higher levels of controls based on risk, staffing levels, building design or other factors that are site specific. Users need to clearly understand that they are not co-owners of the facilities but rather guests that must accept the operations and administrative rules of conduct as part of the terms and conditions of use. We need to continue to build on this education as we emerge from the pandemic by strengthening user contracts, facility signage and other related tools.

The reality is that the science suggests that the COVID virus will linger, mutate, and remerge for years to come. We will have citizens with a high tolerance to risk of contracting the virus and who are prepared to expose themselves, their family members, and friends to this same level of risk while other citizens will not be as high level of a risk taker. Regardless of federal or provincial directives on behaviour, facility managers must accept that all lessons learned during the pandemic will move into internal worker health and safety training responsibilities. The “right to know” will drive the workplace culture but more specifically, it will rest under Section 27, Duties of a Supervisor, in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA)

27. (1) A supervisor shall ensure that a worker, (b) uses or wears the equipment, protective devices, or clothing that the worker’s employer requires to be used or worn. (2) Without limiting the duty imposed by subsection (1), a supervisor shall, (a) advise a worker of the existence of any potential or actual danger to the health or safety of the worker of which the supervisor is aware (b) where so prescribed, provide a worker with written instructions as to the measures and procedures to be taken for protection of the worker; and (c) take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.

Therefore, society should expect to turn many COVID corners as we learn to adapt to the “new normal”. We will need to protect our workers from the potential exposure to the virus based on the fact that their work environment will expose them to increased levels of public traffic that will be a potential high risk of exposure. We will need to further protect workers from those who did not embrace the science of COVID from personal abuse. Failing to do this will impact our operations in many ways. It will stress staff to cover workers who become sick from contracting the virus for long periods of time. It will impact short and long-term health benefits. There should be an expectation of increased workplace mental health issues. Our cleaning, disinfection and sanitizing practices will need to remain firmly rooted in our operations. It will be years before the true impact to the pandemic is clear. Until then, facility management must be proactive in understanding the issues and adjusting operations accordingly. The ORFA will remain active in supporting our members as they take on these challenges. We are committed to learning from the lessons that have been provided during the pandemic to strengthen our industry’s ability to provide safe programs and services. These experiences will be inserted into the various professional accreditation programs for future generations to use as keystones to their leadership efforts.

Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Technical Director, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association

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