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New health concerns as economy opens up



LONDON, ONT. -- As the economy opens up and people gradually return to their jobs, some are wondering if it’s going to be safe.

And it’s not just employees, but also customers of those businesses opening up.

Of particular concern is the area of food safety, from grocery stores to fast food drive-thrus.

As of now, there are no rules requiring those handling food to wear a mask or gloves. People who spoke with CTV News in a London grocery store parking lot say they’d feel more comfortable if the practice was mandatory.

“Oh, 100 per cent if they handle the food they should be wearing mask and gloves,” said one man out shopping. “Just to put people at ease,” added his partner.

“For the safety of the public everybody who works with food in the food industry should definitely be wearing masks,“ said another man shopping on his own.

Middlesex-London Health Unit medical officer of health, Dr. Chris Mackie, concedes the lack of consistency in food services.

“When you have people working in close contact there is a risk of spreading and any facilities where that is the case you can see in a kitchen environment where there isn’t a lot of space that might be something that ends up happening. So it is a potential risk and of course is a trade off they are providing an essential service we all need to eat,“ says Mackie.

He said he’s expecting clearer guidelines from the province in the “medium future” as well as local recommendations to address the gaps.

So what about the safety of workers themselves? Legal experts say you can refuse to work but you have to make a pretty strong case that the workplace is unsafe, and that the employer has not done enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We know that the workplace is going to look very different,” says Kristie Pagniello, the acting executive director at London Neighbourhood Legal Services.

Pagniello said employees must take concerns up with their employer, and give the employer a chance to resolve the issue before making a formal complaint to the Ministry of Labour. She added that employers are responsible for workplace safety, just as they were before the pandemic.

“Once they determine that they can be open again they then have a duty to consider the COVID-19 risk in their workplace and develop a plan and takes steps necessary to make sure it’s safe for the workers or for customers or clients.“

A statement issued by the Canadian Labour Congress last week criticized references to worker health and safety in public health guidance as “rare and often insufficient.”