Tara Natural Foods claims top spot in WSIB health and safety awards

A Kingston institution since 1972, Tara Natural Foods has achieved Gold Level status in the 2021 WSIB Small Business Health and Safety Leadership Awards. Photo via Tara Natural Foods.

A Kingston-based organic grocery store, located on downtown Princess Street, has garnered Gold Level in the Small Business Health and Safety Leadership Awards for 2021.

Presented annually by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), the award amounts to $5,000, and the winner was selected among the participating stores and small businesses from across Ontario. 

“The team stepped up in a huge way to respond to the challenges of delivering an essential service during COVID,” said Rudi Mogl, Owner of Tara Natural Foods Ltd. 

Mogl shared that there were few guidelines about how to serve customers and work with colleagues safely at the very beginning of the pandemic. It was also challenging to find gloves, alcohol for cleaning surfaces, hand sanitizer, and masks.  

“All we knew was that people should distance from others and surfaces need to be cleaned,” said Mogl, explaining that the team then met to discuss the health and safety measures, and planned to implement them while encouraging workers to raise any concerns they might have along the way. 

The first steps were to ensure staff could maintain distance from each other and from customers while in the store. This meant steps like:

  • Setting up a curb-side pick up service.
  • Initially shortening the hours that the store served customers and creating an evening shift so that staff could stock shelves and prepare pick-up orders with more space.
  • Taking one cash station out of service to ensure distancing when checking out 
  • Installing plexiglass at the remaining cash stations.
  • Creating two lunchrooms with designated seating.
  • Limiting the number of customers allowed in the store at one time.
  • Setting up one socially distanced line for the cash station.  

It was difficult for customers to know what the new procedures were, Mogl expressed. In the beginning, the team needed to assign a staff member to stand at the door during opening hours to inform customers of the new procedures, answer questions, and limit the number of people in the store.  

“However, now people understand about capacity limits, sanitizing hands, social distancing when shopping, and we don’t need someone assigned for that job. But it took time and much patience, and some people were not happy with the changes,” said Mogl. 

Sanitizing the store was the other huge job that the staff took on. Procedures were set up, and hourly cleaning of door handles, phones, and other touch surfaces in the store became part of the workday, in addition to cleaning the cash register between each customer.

Staying safe in the workplace during the COVID-19 requires both extra and ongoing work, Mogl explained. 

“We followed the emerging evidence as put forth by Dr. Tam and others, and it led us to use masks and installing air filters quite early on,” he added. 

Rapid testing for employees is now available at the workplace. Also, if employees need PCR testing, there will be no cut in the wages while waiting for test results. 

Mogl mentioned Wiebke Wilkins, the Project Coordinator at Kingston Partners for Safe Communities (KPSC) (which is sponsored by WSIB), and paid thanks for all the guidance throughout the pandemic to ensure best safety measures. 

“It is truly remarkable that during these challenging times, everyone has given the huge extra effort required to work safely during COVID. I feel very fortunate to work with such a wonderful group of people. They deserve this award,” said Mogl. 

This Ontario-wide award recognizes excellence in implementing health and safety policies to protect both staff and customers.

View a short video on what makes Kingston’s Tara Natural Foods Ltd. a Gold Level Small Business Health and Safety Leadership Award winner, created by the WSIB, below.

Video by WSIB on YouTube.

For more information on the 2021 WSIB Small Business Health and Safety Leadership Awards, click here.

For more information on Tara Natural Foods Ltd., click here.

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