Plans for a limited increase in onsite presence
Further to my message on Wednesday, in order to protect the health of our employees, we plan on having the majority of our staff telework for the foreseeable future. Staying home continues to be the most important thing we can do as a group to prevent or limit the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.
In this regard, the large majority of us have been teleworking, with a smaller proportion working onsite for pressing reasons, such as:
- Ensuring campus safety, protecting buildings, and sustaining key facilities like animal models, greenhouses, or specialized equipment;
- Working on COVID-19-related projects, or supporting clients with COVID-19 projects, such as vaccines, producing reagents, or testing personal protective equipment; or
- Supporting our clients in essential sectors like telecommunications or transportation.
To manage this onsite activity, we developed guidance for managers to make a business case as to why this activity is necessary and, at the same time, require that they set out how they will implement measures to provide a safe workplace for that activity.
Some provinces are preparing to lift some restrictions
As some provinces resume aspects of more normal social and business operations, we can anticipate a growing need to allow more activity onsite at our campuses.
In those provinces where COVID-19 measures have been relaxed, this could include:
- Working with a wider range of our collaborators and client companies on their non-COVID-19-related projects; or
- Going onsite to access our facilities to advance our general research work in support of our operating plans, or self-directed research. A modest amount of time spent onsite with access to equipment and facilities can generate valuable data and results that will, in turn, allow teams to sustain telework activity.
As we have been doing, we would ask that managers develop a business case for the proposed onsite activity, including specific measures to ensure a safe workplace for the staff involved. We also will have to monitor the total number of people in a building at any one time, and introduce other general measures for their protection, and safety measures on those sites.
However, even as some provinces decide their current situation with COVID-19 permits them to reopen economic and other activities, other jurisdictions, such as municipalities, will still have reasons to be cautious, and so we can expect different situations across the country. Further complicating the situation, some provinces may need to re-impose physical distancing measures if COVID-19 infections start to increase again.
This means that while we may allow employees in one province to increase their onsite activities to support non-COVID-related work with clients or their own self-directed research, we may have to restrict these forms of access at a later date to respect changes in provincial measures.
What does this mean for each of us?
You should not work onsite unless you have a specific, approved reason to be there.
To secure your approval for onsite activity, speak with your manager and outline why you need to be on campus. Your manager, in turn, should develop a proposal with your Director General to develop the simple business case and specific measures relating to safety for that activity.
A guide has been developed for managers to do the business case and related safety plan. Vice Presidents will review and approve the requested onsite activity on a case-by-case basis.
A safe work environment
For all of us when on campus, whether for a short visit or for a project, please remember to do the following:
- Complete a personal self-assessment at home every day – do you feel ill? Have you come in contact with someone with COVID-19? Are you showing symptoms?
- Use proper hygiene – wash your hands often, use hand sanitizer, avoid touching your face.
- Eating and drinking is not permitted inside labs or workshops – do not share food, drinks or utensils.
- Physical distancing – keep a distance of approximately two metres from others. Follow floor markers, parking restrictions, and respect restricted access to common areas.
- Sanitize high-touch surfaces frequently, and at the beginning and end of each shift.
For work sites where a growing number of employees are onsite, additional measures may include:
- A maximum number of staff allowed in a building at any given time
- “One way” hallways or limits on numbers in elevators at one time
- Common space restrictions (e.g., no cafeteria services);
- Reduced numbers of staff permitted in office and lab space;
- Rotation of personnel on site, and varied scheduling.
We are also providing a safe work environment for employees by taking extra precautions such as increasing the number of hand sanitizing stations, conducting extra cleaning and disinfecting shared work areas when warranted. These precautions allowed us to react quickly this week, as the first onsite employee case of COVID-19 at the NRC was confirmed. Given the broad nature of the pandemic, it may not be the last, but please rest assured that all possible measures are being taken— and will continue to be taken— to ensure our safety and security.
Finally, the business plan and approved safety measures for the specific onsite activity concerned may also impose further very specific additional measures, such as limiting who can use equipment, very specific timing of work or shifts, or additional special sanitary measures required.
Over the coming weeks, we may begin to experience changes in physical distancing and other provincial measures. Regardless of these changes, the NRC will continue to provide essential services, support the fight against COVID-19, and provide safe and secure campuses.
Depending on guidance for a specific province, we may also be able to allow additional activity onsite in support of non-COVID client and collaboration work, and for our own research activity.
However, we will have to ensure that:
- Employees who can work remotely should continue to do so;
- Employees should not be onsite unless they have a specific, approved reason to be there. Managers will propose business cases and decisions for onsite access will be made by Vice Presidents on a case by case basis;
- Onsite employees are provided with a safe workplace, including clear operating procedures.
We will need to remain open to the potential that the NRC may have to dial back levels of access for non-essential services, as required, to align with changes in provincial guidance.