OHS Canada Magazine

Waking up to a brand-new world

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March 18, 2020
By Marcel Vander Wier

Health & Safety Canada Coronavirus COVID-19 Emergency Management Social Distancing

It's been a wild week, with many lessons learned


I had tickets to the Toronto Maple Leafs game on March 12. Lower bowl. Twenty-one rows up.

I’ll never forget that day, but it wasn’t because of anything Auston Matthews did. No, that was the day everything stopped.

Shortly after 1 p.m. EST last Thursday, the NHL suspended the hockey season in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus known as COVID-19, following in the footsteps of the NBA, which had already made its call the night before. Not long after, many of the world’s major sports leagues followed suit.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford went on to announce the closure of all public schools until April 6, and the chain reaction that followed saw places of worship, restaurants and other public spaces shut down in an effort to flatten the curve and protect society’s most vulnerable from COVID-19.

The Canadian border was closed. Flights were rerouted to major airports. Our nation’s leaders began holding daily press conferences to update citizens on the latest protective measures, including a state of emergency in Ontario. Quite frankly, it’s been eerie watching Toronto’s bustling streets go quiet.


As the editor of a national health and safety magazine, the past number of days have been a period of high anxiety and adrenaline. The news headlines have been non-stop and unrelenting, with the health and safety of citizens continuing to be priority No. 1.

I write this from my home office. CP24’s breaking news channel is humming quietly in the background, and every now and then I can hear my wife and five-year-old son shout with laughter as they kick off their March Break together. Using proper social distancing measures, we have been checking in on our senior neighbours. We’re all in this together.

There are many lessons employers and health and safety professionals can learn from this. Transparency, flexibility and timely, compassionate reactions to issues like coronavirus can do a great deal to instil confidence in your workforce.

Being prepared for pandemic situations before they occur is also of paramount importance — the cover story of our upcoming March/April issue will highlight the importance of emergency management procedure for employers.

Over the past few years, natural disasters have been on the rise, dramatically affecting the lives of Canadian workers.

In St. John’s, it was a record-breaking winter storm that prompted its latest state of emergency in January, as 90-plus centimetres of snow fell within a 24-hour span, grinding the Newfoundland and Labrador economy to a halt.

In 2019, historic flooding was an issue in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. Recent years have also seen major wildfire activity in western Canada, with the 2016 blaze in Fort McMurray drawing the lion’s share of coverage.

Today, coronavirus is the issue at hand. Our next emergency could look very different.

We’ll get through this one together, but let’s all make sure we’re good and ready for the next state of emergency.

This editorial was originally published in the March/April 2020 issue of OHS Canada.


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