As business owners and patrons get used to the idea of not having to show vaccine passports again, a Durham business owner is hoping his idea will help prevent future lockdowns from happening again.
The program would help business owners safely space out their buildings — a direction that the owner of Evolution Fitness, Sheldon Scott, says has been lacking throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There wasn’t a lot of help with gyms,” says Scott. “It wasn’t provided to us how to do it. I wish it was given to us in a more detailed way instead of having to run to the TV or social media to find our name on a list.”
That’s where Safe Space 1st hopes to fill the gap — giving owners a clear sense of direction in how they can lay out their storefront for safe traffic flow. It was created by Edward Henry, and brought together by researchers and community experts. It helps businesses with traffic control, giving them a simple step-by-step plan for peace of mind.
“It comes with the plans and the templates for managing traffic. Your employees are trained for conflict management, how you can work with staff and how to approach the public,” says Henry.
Using clear and consistent guidelines, businesses can space out their storefront according to the threat level indicated. The second step would be an advisory system that alerts businesses to the level of risk posed by an emerging pandemic.
The owner of Evolution Fitness says while some businesses had the funds to pay for help and medical experts to advise them, others were on their own trying to figure out how to execute the new rules.
But when he started using Safe Space 1st, he says he finally felt some sense of direction.
“This just brought it and organized it in a great way for us, in a structured way that no matter what, we knew where to go, what to do and it just made things much easier,” he said.
Henry says there is a desperate need to help give more direction to all businesses.
“We had no response for businesses to address these new measures,” he says. “After two years we should have realized that we needed to focus on a framework that made sense.”
The system would allow businesses to use the current restrictions in place, but it wouldn’t discriminate one business from another.
“We are advocating we have universal standards across the board so that for a example, a hairstylist shouldn’t be closed, if you can take a driver’s test,” says Henry.
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen a range of responses, including regional shutdowns, full lockdowns and reduced restrictions. But business owners never knew what to expect as the government response changed depending on your type of business.
Henry says with Safe Space 1st, the program uses parts of ISO Quality Control and Homeland Security measures to help lay out a complex system of checks and balances. He says the protocols would provide the tools for navigating through future public health threats and other health emergencies by keeping spaces safe.
“It’s not so much a reactive model, but a permanent one like WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System), because we never know when we’re going to be in this situation again.”
Thousands of businesses have since closed because of rotating restrictions over the past two years. Ryan Mallough with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says there needs to be an alternative to locking down if this ever happens again.
“Until government gets behind this and says, ‘Hey, you need to be doing X, Y and Z to be compliant and stay open,’ this is all ultimately voluntary.”
Mallough adds that businesses have been proactive in putting strict measures in place on their own — but in the end, the government would still choose to lock down.
Global News reached out to the province about this story, but it declined comment, saying it can’t endorse businesses.
The CFIB says although they are optimistic with more restrictions being lifted, the government needs to find some sort of system to put in place just in case.
“There needs to be a plan in place so business owners understand what comes back and when. Would vaccine passports come back? What kicks in a lockdown? Having that kind of planning and peace of mind is important,” says Mallough.
Henry says whatever happens, it needs to change from what we’ve seen in the past.
“We need to really make sure that we are balancing safe-space management, not controlling behaviour. We need to get to a place where we are in continuity,” he says.
More than five business owners are using the program right now. Henry hopes the government picks up the idea and rolls it out provincewide to prevent a lockdown from happening in the future.