Technical Corner

Masking Recreation Facility Staff for the Winter of 2022/23

November 17, 2022

The ORFA is receiving increased requests for guidance on how best to address staff health and safety concerns surrounding air borne illnesses. With recreation staff and the general public appearing to be suffering from personal protection health and risk strategy fatigue, it will be a challenge for a single directive to address rising caseloads. Provincial leaders are being cautious in issuing any directive knowing that the potential for another protest could erupt and therefore we are seeing only general advice at this point in time. This leaves any hard decisions with regards to how each work environment will respond to concerns as an internal workplace matter.

Opinion on the value of face protection and vaccination during the pandemic varies creating more challenges as managerial staff try and create policy specific to their work environments. As a society we have always tried to reduce exposure from coughing and sneezing by covering our mouths or coughing into a sleeve. We recognize the value and etiquette of these types of actions. However, what recreation facility management needs to balance is slightly more complicated when compared to a controlled office workplace setting. So, what are some sidebar issues that ORFA members are facing.

  • The pandemic has resulted in a global worker shortage that includes recreation services. Keeping staff healthy to ensure facilities can in fact operate as scheduled is a further challenge.
  • Working in an environment that has a high turnover of the public with different attitudes and commitment to health best practices adds an additional layer of worker safety risk to be considered.
  • Although recreation facilities have the authority to direct user entry care and control policies by requiring face coverings to be worn, the matter of enforcement becomes an operational issue that most facilities would not have the resources to control.
  • The original investment and focus on facility cleaning, sanitizing and disinfection was supported by provincial funding support. This support has been reduced resulting in a reduction in commitment to these proven risk reduction approaches.

The following facts are important information as facility supervisors develop worker risk assessments to determine the best approach to managing operations. It is important to lean on the Occupational Health and Safety Act responsibilities to guide policy development. What is known:

  • Medical professionals are advising that as the winter months begin there is increased pressure being applied at all provincial hospitals based on an increase of respiratory based illnesses. Covid remains active with influenza and RSV adding to the crisis. All three are extremely impacting young children who are regular users of recreation facilities. [more
  • The quality of ventilation system capabilities in Ontario’s aging recreational infrastructure varies. Workers are exposed to this air for extended periods of time. [more
  • Use of properly fitted face coverings reduces the chance of exposure. [more] Further, the City of Burlington’s Health and Safety Officer, Chris Kroes, shared the following comment for member release after reading and agreeing with the ORFA news release on Masking Recreation Facility Staff, "I would add that it should be a well-fitted medical grade procedure mask, rather than cloth at this point in the game - supply is generally not an issue. KN95s are also great for source control but have some added cost. While a CBC article on the topic reconfirmed the thought process by some businesses". [more] 
Public and user safety is balanced with maintaining a healthy workforce. As we have learned from the pandemic, requiring vaccination is a personal choice, that when mandated, can at times create a toxic work environment. Governing bodies do not seem as focused on requiring this type of protection but have shifted these decisions to employers to consider and control.

An added value of required face protection during the pandemic was a reduction in workers contracting other sickness such as colds and flu. Improved hand hygiene combined with an increased focus on cleaning, disinfection, and sanitization most likely reduced the level of traditional sickness society expects each fall/winter and spring season.

We have a moral responsibility to keep all our users safe. Given that workers in recreation facilities are in these environments for extended periods and move freely throughout the entire operation and conduct close contact work in washroom and changerooms, we should be taking reasonable care under these conditions.

We also know medically that the current inventory of respiratory infections does not impact each person equally and that “the direct cost of absenteeism is $16.6 billion in Canada, according to a report by Sunlife. That's not accounting for non-monetary side effects, such as poor employee morale or engagement. Despite this massive impact, only 46% of employers in Canada actively track absenteeism.” [Source

The ORFA recommends that these discussions should be undertaken by the Joint Health and Safety Committee as equal worker and management representation that would reflect all duties and responsibilities associated with the workplace. Requiring workers to wear face protection under increasing risk of infection would seem reasonable and responsible supervision based on some of the core expectations of the OHSA:

Duties of employers

25 (1) An employer shall ensure that,

2) Without limiting the strict duty imposed by subsection (1), an employer shall,

(a) provide information, instruction, and supervision to a worker to protect the health or safety of the worker

(h) take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker

Which is then supported by:

Duties of supervisor

27 (1) A supervisor shall ensure that a worker,

(a) works in the manner and with the protective devices, measures and procedures required by this Act and the regulations; and

(b) uses or wears the equipment, protective devices, or clothing that the worker’s employer requires to be used or worn.

The ORFA provides this information to stimulate discussion on the subject. ORFA will continue to monitor the provincial health reports to determine what safety measures would be best used in any of our training environments.

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

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