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ADVISORY NOTICE ON SARS
April 9, 2003
|Brent DiBartolo, Assistant Secretary
Labour Relations and Compensation Operations Sector
|Heads of HR (including Separate Employers)
Heads of Staff Relations
Occupational Health and Safety Coordinators
Heads of Agencies
|Advisory notice on SARS
Since our advisory notice of March 28, 2003, we have been receiving a number of requests for clarification as well as other questions on issues that were not addressed previously. The purpose of this memorandum is to provide the requested clarification and further guidance in dealing with situations occurring in your departments and agencies.
It is apparent from questions being received by central agencies that this information and the Health Canada advisories are not always reaching staff. Please ensure that effective lines of communication are in place.
The health and safety of our employees remains our primary concern and we continue to work with Health Canada and other federal departments.
In dealing with situations that are occurring, you should always consider Health Canada’s advice that persons who are not exhibiting the symptoms of SARS are not contagious and no protective equipment is required when dealing with them. Employees should continue to be allowed to wear personally provided masks, if they wish. Masks issued by Departments before this criteria was established should not be recalled. The advice of Health Canada equates to Treasury Board Secretariat’s advice and position, until further notice. Please monitor the Health Canada web site. Employees should be reminded that some of the best precautionary actions are to wash their hands frequently and to avoid close personal contact should they have to deal with an affected individual.
Before any government business travel is undertaken to the affected areas (the City of Hanoi, Vietnam; the People’s Republic of China including the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region; Singapore and Taiwan), you should consult Health Canada’s Travel Medicine Program website at www.hc-sc.gc.ca/pphb-dgspsp/tmp-pmv/pub_e.html, and follow the advice provided in the Travel Health Advisory “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in the City of Hanoi, Vietnam; the People’s Republic of China including the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region; Singapore and Taiwan.” You should consult this website on a regular basis for updates. Management should also be sensitive to employees’ concerns regarding travel to the Greater Toronto Area for meetings or conferences.
As stated in our March 28th advisory, if you have employees who have traveled to the affected areas and who will be returning to the workplace, managers should make every effort to contact them and discuss the situation. Managers should also be sensitive to concerns expressed by the returning worker’s colleagues. Bearing in mind Health Canada’s advice that persons without the symptoms of SARS are not contagious, if the returning employee has no symptoms, they are expected to return to work. However, they should monitor their health for 10 days following their departure from the affected area. Should a high fever (over 38 degrees Celsius) and one or more of the following respiratory symptoms – cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing – occur, they should seek immediate medical advice and remove themselves from the workplace. Employees exhibiting symptoms who are reluctant to remain at home should be refused entry to the workplace.
You may have employees in Ontario who have been in close contact with a probable or suspected case of SARS or have visited hospitals listed by the Government of Ontario (www.health.gov.on.ca) and who wish to voluntarily isolate themselves. In such cases, and subject to management’s approval, these employees should be granted leave with pay for the period of isolation. If illness ensues during this period, employees will be expected to utilize sick leave in accordance with their collective agreements.
As mentioned above, the current epidemiological information is that persons not exhibiting the symptoms are not in the infectious stage and no protective equipment is required when dealing with them. However, the situation is dynamic, and it is possible that Health Canada’s advice with respect to the requirement for protective equipment may change. As a contingency, departments should be planning to implement the necessary training should the issuance of protective equipment become appropriate. The latter is a requirement of the Canada Labour Code and we cannot over-emphasize the need to provide training prior to the use of the protective equipment.
Departments dealing with the general public may wish to take special measures such as signage to discourage symptomatic people from coming into contact with employees. This is an operational decision at the discretion of the Department but senior level approval is recommended.
You are encouraged to work with your union representatives and ensure that they are provided with this information and kept informed of any future developments.
Finally, we remind you that, in the event that an employee refuses to work, the refusal must be handled in accordance with the Canada Labour Code, Part II.
Health Canada is issuing updated health and travel advisories as well as questions and answers. We encourage you to consult their website on a regular basis at www.hc-sc.gc.ca. We also encourage you to consult the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade at www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca.
For questions concerning the scientific or medical aspects of this situation, please call 1-800-O CANADA (1-800-622-6232) and you will be directed to the appropriate source.
We will keep you informed as more information becomes available. If you have any questions, please contact Treasury Board Secretariat staff at SARS-SDRA@tbs-sct.gc.ca.