Protecting the health and safety of Indigenous Communities in close proximity to natural resource operations: Guidance for Indigenous communities

Purpose

This page aims to provide practical guidance on public health measures to reduce the potential for the spread of COVID-19 within Indigenous communities that are nearby resource sector operations. This guidance builds on public health guidance, and operational requirements put in place by federal, provincial/territorial governments for industry operations. It should also be considered within the context of local communities as needs will continue to vary across the country. It is recognized that community leadership best understands local needs and circumstances. While this guidance makes recommendations based on federal and provincial/territorial public health guidance, it is expected that First Nations governments will adapt the recommend health measures to suit their particular circumstances. Employers and local community leaders are encouraged to engage frequently with one another and provincial public health officials to ensure all parties are kept informed of ever-changing developments.

Context

The natural resources sectors are significant contributors to Canada's economy. Though most provinces have declared resource operations an essential service, many operations across the country have reduced operational activities or suspended them entirely to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

With a stabilization, and subsequent decrease, in the number of newly infected Canadians, provincial/ territorial and First Nation governments and the resource industries are moving to safely resume operations and contribute to Canada's economic recovery.

When considering how to safely increase/resume operations and contribute to Canada's economic recovery, the natural resources sectors are required to maintain continuous communication with provincial public health officials. This communication is to ensure the safety of workers and to ensure the virus stays out of communities. To do this, public health guidance for communities needs to be implemented, in addition to existing monitoring, and operational- and industry-based occupational health and safety measures to control the spread of the virus.

As sites are sometimes located near Indigenous communities, there is a potential risk of transmitting COVID-19 to Indigenous community members. Workers, tradespeople, and suppliers, many of whom are members of these communities, often work in close quarters and regularly travel across the region. Prevention and risk reduction require both industry and nearby communities to ensure the virus is not spread within Indigenous communities.

While many communities have introduced health measures to protect their communities and members from COVID-19, by ensuring proper precautions, industry and communities can help limit the spread of COVID-19, while safely benefiting from the gradual increased/reopening of the natural resources sectors. Communities need to remain vigilant in these times of transition, and should maintain connections with the public health authorities.

The public health measures outlined in this guidance document should be considered, in addition to any guidance/measures put in place by the province or territory in which the Indigenous community resides. More detailed information on these non-federal measures can be found at the Provincial and territorial resources for COVID-19 website.

Guidance to protect Indigenous communities near natural resources sites

As the Canadian natural resources sectors begin to resume operations, the following practical guidance is offered for Indigenous communities. It includes 3 main elements:

  1. limited interactions and physical distancing
  2. increased hygiene and protective actions
  3. constant monitoring (and response when needed)

It is based on the public health principles of limited interactions and physical distancingFootnote 1, engineering and administrative controls,Footnote 2 and the use of non-medical masks or cloth face coverings.

Adopting the recommendations provided in this guidance will help protect Indigenous communities from the potential risk of COVID-19 and minimize the impacts of a potential second wave.

Limited interactions and physical distancing

  • Communities continue to implement physical distancing measures, including avoiding large crowds and non-essential gatherings. Limiting access to communities through entry/exit restrictions may be considered. Regular assessment of what may be deemed essential is encouraged so that physical distancing practices may be amended as necessary.
  • Where it is not possible to maintain physical distancing practices, use of homemade non-medical masks or cloth face coverings, hand hygiene and increased cleaning and disinfection should be encouraged. More information on use of non-medical cloth masks or face coverings in community settings can be found online.
  • Where necessary and appropriate, personal protective equipment (PPE) may be required for individuals delivering essential services. Where communities are unable to secure PPE, communities may seek funding from the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch for PPE for those delivering essential services.

Increased hygiene and protective action

  • Community leaders and health care providers should continue to encourage individual members to practice self-protective actions through hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette (such as covering your cough, sneezing into your sleeve), and mitigation measures (such as regular cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces, etc.) A list of approved disinfectants and hand sanitizers can be found on the Health Canada website.

Monitor symptoms

  • Indigenous community members who work in resource operations and have COVID-19 like symptoms such as a sore throat, fever, sneezing, or coughing, must report to a healthcare provider at work immediately. These workers may be asked to isolate for 14 days. If concerned, workers may contact their local health public health unit to seek further direction and to be assessed for COVID-19 and other infectious respiratory diseases.
  • Communities may consider establishing procedures for when a worker may test positive. Most natural resources companies have supports in place for workers impacted by COVID-19. Communities may consider working with them to better support their members
  • If isolation at home is not possible, communities may consider supporting isolation opportunities outside of the home, including re-tooling of existing buildings, other temporary isolation sites, or on-the-land initiatives.

The above guidance on core personal public health measures is not exhaustive, but if implemented, will help ensure that Indigenous communities are taking action to limit the spread of COVID-19. Minimizing the spread of COVID-19 within Indigenous communities will help reduce the potential that the virus is transmitted as sites increase/reopen operations. The same principles (limited interactions and physical distancing, hygiene and protective actions, and monitoring) apply within Indigenous communities as they do with interaction with individuals, companies and services external to communities.

Engagement and communications

As plans to ramp up/restart operations advance, industry and Indigenous leadership are strongly encouraged to open/maintain lines of communications to remain aware of ever-changing needs and expectations as activity increases. This dialogue encourages cooperation between parties, more effective mitigation of COVID-19 transmission, and better industry/community mutual benefits.

Indigenous communities and businesses have long-standing relationships with Canadian natural resources companies. Appropriate public and operational health measures being taken within industry and communities will allow industry to continue to procure the necessary materials, equipment, and goods, and contactors/tradespeople from nearby communities, while ensuring the health and safety of communities. Indigenous communities could consider their own measures to exclude non-essential workers as they deem appropriate to protect their communities.

Resources

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