Do You Provide an Essential Service?

By April 2, 2020 April 24th, 2020 ICC & Industry News, Regulation

We all know that “social distancing” is an important part of beating the novel coronavirus and ensuring public safety. To that end, many businesses across Canada (and other countries such as the U.S.) have been ordered closed in order to “flatten the curve” of the spread of infection.

Obviously, though certain industries must remain open for society to function safely. Medical facilities and pharmacies, as well as food providers like grocery stores, are obvious examples. But they can’t function either, without a whole infrastructure behind them. In order to keep Canadians fed, provided with necessities and with access to medical care during the pandemic, a much larger web of businesses must also remain open.

So, how do you know if your company or employer is an “essential service,” or if you’re legally bound to keep your doors closed? First, remember that this can be a complex situation. Closures could be ordered at a municipal, regional, provincial or national level, although national closures would probably be too inflexible to be practical for a disease that has flare-ups and hot spots. So, start by consulting your provincial government and your municipality, while still listening for any specific regulations coming from the federal government.

Without federal guidance, though, this piecemeal approach could devolve into chaos. Imagine if, say a truck driver could take his shipment of needed goods through some provinces, but not all. So, the Canadian federal government has created guidelines for a national policy on what services should be viewed as essential. These guidelines can be found at and are Part of Canada’s National Strategy for Critical Infrastructure.

According to the strategic plan, there are ten essential sectors for the wellbeing of Canadians. These are:

  •       Energy and Utilities
  •       Information and Communication Technologies
  •       Finance
  •       Health
  •       Food
  •       Water
  •       Transportation
  •       Safety
  •       Government
  •       Manufacturing

These are essential to keep Canadians fed, safe, with sufficient electrical power and with communications to each other and to the government for guidance during difficult times. Details can change over time – for example, transport of the public may or may not be considered essential even when transporting cargo obviously would be. Regulators can change their mind depending on how the pandemic is progressing in their areas of control.

Provinces may have their own more detailed list of who is “essential.” For example, Ontario provides a list at, while BC lists theirs at  The group Responsible Distribution and Care has put a summary for each province online at

Different areas may come to different conclusions as to what is “essential”. Grocery stores, certainly – but what about pet food stores? Are liquor stores really essential? What about laundromats? What if you need new shoes, but the shoe store is closed – maybe a safety supply store would be open that has footwear for sale?

Remember that each obviously essential service, like trucking or the railways, depends on an intricate web of support services which must also remain available if they’re to function. If you need to transport dangerous goods, for example, you will likely need labels, placards and packaging. So, suppliers in those areas, such as ICC The Compliance Center, are also considered part of the essential service supply chain.

So, if you’re wondering if your company is “essential,” the best answer is to check the provisions in your province or territory, while paying attention to the federal and municipal guidelines as well, and to keep checking over time to see when they may be either tightened or relaxed. Of course, if you’re considered essential, you’ll still need to take appropriate safety measures to protect your staff from exposure to the virus, and ensure appropriate distancing and disinfecting.

ICC The Compliance Center remains open to provide needed support to the transport industry. Check our website for supplies, or call us here at 888-442-9628 (U.S.) or 888-977-4834 (Canada). We can take your order and ship it to you safely and quickly. 

Barbara Foster

Barbara Foster

Barbara Foster graduated from Dalhousie University with a Master’s degree in Chemistry and a Bachelor’s degree in Education. As one of ICC Compliance Center’s most senior employees, she has worked in the Toronto office for the past three decades as a Regulatory Affairs Specialist and Trainer. She is fluent in various US, Canadian, and international regulations involving transportation, including TDG, 49 CFR, ICAO, IMDG, and the ADR/RID. She also specializes in the hazard communication standards of OSHA, WHMIS, CCCR, and the Globally Harmonized System for Classification and Labelling (GHS). Barbara is the author of ICC’s TDG Clear Language Driver and Handler’s Guide. Currently, she is a participant on the Canadian General Standards Board committee where she creates training standards for transportation of dangerous goods in Canada and is a past Chair of the Dangerous Goods Advisory Council.