Government opens the door for new residential demolition and excavation work in additional loosening of emergency COVID-19 stop-work regulations

Ontario Construction News staff writer

The provincial government has taken another small step to re-open Ontario’s construction industry, by expanding essential construction so that below-grade multi-unit residential projects can begin and existing above-grade projects continue.

“We are expanding essential construction to include demolition work related to essential construction projects and multi-unit residential projects, such as condos and apartments,” Premier Doug Ford said in a statement. “For these buildings, below grade work will be permitted and existing above grade projects can continue, so we can keep adding more housing and creating more jobs on the path to economic recovery.”

All sites must meet or exceed the Ministry of Labour’s Guidelines for Construction Site Health and Safety during COVID-19.

“We are still waiting for the regulation to be posted to be clear of WHEN re-activation of below grade construction can begin and if it is tied to the April 4 permit date,” the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA) said in a note to its members. That was the date that the government tightened emergency rules to stop most commercial and much public sector construction, but exempted residential and mixed-use projects with above-grade building permits.

The Simcoe County Home Builders’ Association and the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA) welcomed the resumption of below-grade construction under the COVID-19 Emergency Orders, stating each step that is taken toward returning to normal construction activity allows the industry to meet the housing needs of the Simcoe County area and Ontario.

“We are still focused on the safety of jobsites and workers. Condominium and apartment building continue to be an important part of the housing choice and supply we need to provide our community. Permitting the below-grade construction for these buildings means we can start to respond to the housing needs of Simcoe County said Sandy Tuckey, executive officer.

Getting back to more normal construction activity will help lead the economic recovery in Simcoe County, she added.

“Residential construction is an engine of the Ontario’s economy, with every 1,000 housing units generating 2,600 direct and indirect jobs, paying half a billion dollars in wages and generating $600 million in economic activity.”

Changes allow the resumption of below-grade construction where permits are in place including excavation, temporary shoring, pilings, servicing as required, concrete forming, reinforcing and pouring, and many other tasks.

A safe working environment is possible during below-grade construction by limiting the number of trades on the work site and by practicing physical distancing, Tuckey said.
As with previous expansions to the emergency orders for construction, all work must be carried out in compliance with the Ministry of Labour’s Guidelines for Construction Site Health and Safety during COVID-19. The industry supports the closing of any site that does not meet or exceed these requirements.

“We applaud the Government of Ontario for taking steady and consistent steps to safely re-activate residential construction work,” said Joe Vaccaro, CEO, OHBA. “With enhanced health and safety policies, buildings across Ontario can resume construction and move closer to completion. This decision moves thousands of families closer to getting the keys for their new homes.”

On May 4, the provincial government relaxed the emergency rules to allow construction of all kinds of municipal projects, as well as schools, and opened up other categories of industrial and commercial construction within specific sectors. The government has also allowed for construction of agricultural buildings and food processing infrastructure projects.

OHBA notes that it has received many calls regarding the April 4 permit date – asking “when/if will be waived or moved for low-rise housing, hi-rise buildings or renovations. It is being been actively discussed as part of the ongoing discussion with the COVID-19 Command Table, but at this point the date still stands and CBOs (Chief Building Officials) will continue to enforce.”

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