A Q-and-A with Humaira Pirooz, director of Health, Safety & Employee Well-Being

People walk through Vari Hall, which is located on York U's Keele campus
People walk through Vari Hall, which is located on York U’s Keele campus

Whether it’s for a common space or the workplace, there will be a plan to ensure everyone is kept safe on York University’s campuses this fall. Humaira Pirooz is the director of Health, Safety and Employee Well-Being (HSEWB) at York and leads a team that plays an essential role in advising the University community. Pirooz and the HSEWB team are responsible for running a host of health and safety programming in addition to policy development, well-being initiatives and helping to manage claims for staff and faculty on York’s campuses.

Q. Who is responsible for leading health and safety planning at York?

Humaira Pirooz
Humaira Pirooz

A. Health, Safety and Employee Well-Bring has been integral to York’s pandemic response. They have worked closely with the COVID-19 Planning and Response Team and have created a suite of programs, protocols, procedures, tools and templates for every unit to use for their health and safety planning. They also play an important role in educating and advising planning leads, staff and faculty in each area so that they understand what is required.

Every area across the University is responsible for creating a plan that is tailored to their specific work environment to ensure safety. Health and safety advisors at HSEWB are always available to help out with this process and ensure plans align with expected standards.

HSEWB has been involved in COVID-19 planning and support since the start of the pandemic and will continue to be involved in the transition back to York’s campuses. They support the community of care commitment, where everyone has a role to play in protecting the health and safety of the community.

Q. What is being done to make sure workplaces will be safe to return to?

A. A lot of work has been happening on campus since last March to keep campuses safe and facilitate a safe return. From enhanced ventilation to automated screening and case management, there are a number of things the University is doing to prepare.

Each unit will also be required to conduct a Health and Safety Risk Assessment and have the COVID-19 safety control measures in place that have been identified in their area-specific workplace safety plan. These measures can include things like screening requirements, wearing masks or face coverings, clear signage, frequent cleaning and easily accessible hand hygiene facilities.

Q. What are safety plans and how do they work?

A. HSEWB has an updated template for developing workplace safety plans, and that aligns closely with the latest public health guidance. The plans themselves will be completed by managers or designates in collaboration with health and safety officers in each unit within the University.

The COVID-19 Area-Specific Workplace Safety Plan lists the measures that have been put in place to protect those who are working or studying on York’s campuses. Due to the evolving nature of the pandemic, the template has been designed to help managers and area supervisors adapt their plans to position closely with the latest public health guidance and the steps in the province’s Roadmap to Reopen.

Q. How will health and safety inspections for COVID-19 work?

A. We all have a role to play in keeping ourselves and those around us safe by following the latest safety and public health measures, workplace safety policies, procedures and programs that are implemented, and reporting any hazards.

Health and safety officers carry out COVID-19 inspections in their assigned areas or units to ensure safety criteria are met, and they work with leadership to resolve any identified issues or escalate them to the COVID-19 Planning and Response Team.

The Joint Health and Safety Committee conducts regular COVID-19 inspections in all the applicable areas open for regular occupancy since the early days of the pandemic. They regularly visit applicable labs, shops and studio spaces to look out for hazards and report them to area managers or designates for followup and implementation of corrective action.   

Q. How will contact and case management be handled for staff and faculty?

A. While Toronto Public Health continues to suspend contact tracing for COVID-19 cases (with some exceptions), the Office of Student Community Relations (OSCR) and HSEWB facilitate contact management for students, staff and faculty, to prevent transmission on York’s campuses.

OSCR and HSEWB work closely on contact management, always maintaining confidentially for cases involving students, faculty, instructors, researchers or staff. A potential close contact of any confirmed positive COVID-19 case on York’s campuses will be contacted and advised to seek guidance from their local public health unit.

HSEWB manages all confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 of staff and faculty at York and potential close contacts through the sick leave and/or accommodation process. HSEWB continues to support employees or faculty members until they are cleared to return to work on York’s campuses.