QUEBEC CITY -- Medical masks will be mandatory in all workplaces in Quebec starting April 8.

The province’s workplace safety board (CNESST) made the announcement Wednesday morning, calling the new guidelines a precaution against the “threat of COVID-19 variants, which are highly contagious.”

Indoor mask wearing will be mandatory, along with existing protocols for physical distancing and barriers in the workplace.

The measure also applies outdoors, if workers are likely to come within two metres of each other.

The masks must either be surgical or approved by Quebec’s standardization bureau.

The order comes after the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) released recommendations for mandatory masks in workplaces last week.

The INSPQ also recommends workers rotate meal times, favour eating in individual offices when possible or that companies make more rooms available for workers.

Veronique Proulx, CEO of Quebec Manufacturers and Exporters, said the adjustment shouldn't be difficult for many businesses in the sector.

“Quebec manufacturers have been working since the beginning of the pandemic, and masks have been mandatory for the employees working on the shop floor – so there won’t be a big change or those working within the manufacturing plants," she said.

"For companies who do have essential workers within their office space, these employees will have to wear masks at all times as of now. But most of them were already wearing masks so it won’t be a huge change for manufacturers of Quebec."

That includes “people working on the shop floor, for operators, for welders -- it won’t be a huge difference" for those people, she said. "They’ll be keeping their masks as they already would right now.”

Francois Vincent, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business in Quebec, which represents 20,000 businesses in all sectors of the economy, said it's better than a shutdown.

“Small businesses, the last thing they want is a new confinement," he said.

"If it means to add masks in the workplaces, the entrepreneurs will be on board because entrepreneurs are part of the solution."

Vincent said business also hope the government keeps exploring other solutions as they continue to struggle.

“Businesses have been hit hard by COVID-19. Given CFIB data, we could lose up to 11 per cent of businesses in Quebec," he said.

"So we have to find other ways and other policies to put in place other than confinement and economic restrictions."

What businesses want the most is "rapid testing to isolate people and stop spreading of the virus. We want the government to be faster at vaccination,' he said.

"But they also want to be part of the solution, so if that means to add masks in the workplace then I’m sure small business owners will be there."

He also says PPE is a big added cost for small businesses and they’d like to see the government chip in more money to help.

“When we reopened the economy last summer, CFIB in Quebec we did a case study and we saw that it was a big added cost for small businesses that were in a big deficit from not seeing any sales in the beginning of the confinement.”

LISTEN ON CJAD 800 RADIO: New order forcing all employees to wear masks at all times at the workplace. Chris Dimakos, CJAD 800 legal contributor, has more: 

- With files from The Canadian Press