A day after provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry tightened directives for restaurants and bars, the food-service industry said Thursday it remains vigilant in dealing with COVID-19.
Ian Tostenson, chief executive of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said the restaurant industry cannot afford to relax the strict safety standards that have allowed parts of it to reopen.
“[Public trust] is gold to this industry,” he said.
“The restaurant industry is really embracing everything it can do to continue to make it safe.”
While the hard-hit industry is not getting complacent, a “certain demographic” might be, he said, referring to a spike in COVID-19 cases among younger people.
Tostenson said Henry’s directives could help by keeping restaurant and bar patrons in their designated seats, banning self-serve liquor, reducing lineups and forcing events to shut down by 11 p.m.
“Let’s tighten up to prevent table hopping and clarify the rules for restaurants,” he said. “Ninety-nine per cent of restaurants are doing tremendous work, but we have to continue to up our game in the eyes of the public.”
WorkSafe B.C. and Island Health, which monitor and enforce rules in all sectors, say the vast majority of the food-service and hospitality industry has been compliant with safety rules and regulations.
As of July 17, WorkSafe had conducted nearly 14,000 workplace inspections in B.C. related to COVID-19 — both surprise visits and in response to complaints — resulting in 2,000 reports of potential violations in the workplace.
As a result of the inspections, WorkSafe issued 382 orders for non-compliance, 125 of them in the service sector.
Island Health’s 30 environmental health officers — 11 in Victoria — have conducted more than 1,200 compliance inspections in Victoria since the province entered the second phase of the economic restart plan, as well as following up on more than 100 complaints made about restaurants.
Al Johnson, head of prevention services at WorkSafe B.C., said the majority of employers have good COVID-19 plans in place and meet all requirements.
More people are going out to socialize as the province reopens, and it’s up to bars and restaurants to adapt their plans to take into account the increased numbers, he said.
“Some of them will have been busier than they may have expected, or their lineups may have been longer than they thought and they may have challenges in people moving around,” he said. “The public-health officer’s message really is employers have to tweak their plans if needed. They were meant to be dynamic and might have to be strengthened.”
Besides doing proactive inspections and acting on complaints from workers or the public, WorkSafe phones employers to see how things are going and consult on how to handle situations and comply with health directives, Johnson said.
Both WorkSafe and Island Health have escalating scales of enforcement that start with compliance orders and ramp up to fines or closures if the infractions are deemed serious enough.
“Some employers just need more motivation to comply,” said Johnson, adding the relatively small number of orders written so far shows employers are getting the message.
“They want to do the right thing,” he said. “Employers know what is expected and know the ground rules. Now it is about staying true to those plans and making sure they are working and maybe modifying them a bit.”
Tostenson said the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association is also involved in monitoring and enforcement, as it often takes calls from both the public and restaurant owners concerned about fellow operators not adhering to guidelines.
He said it’s not a pleasant task, but they have made calls to some operators telling them their colleagues have noticed they are not doing what they are supposed to.
“We have people that are in this business that aren’t being attentive or just don’t care,” he said. “And if that’s the case, we suggest they should just close. We’ll even help them close up shop. We have to call them out because it affects everyone.”
At the same time, Tostenson said, there have been occasions where the public has complained about what appear to be crowded patios and full restaurants, but the establishments are actually complying with the rules.
“It may look like chaos, but from the bird’s eye, it may be OK,” he said.