How Ontario construction industry will deal with second wave of COVID-19

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By Jim Lamelza

Special to Ontario Construction News

Even though Ontario’s construction industry has endured its share of challenges throughout the past several months, some experts are warning of a potential second wave of COVID-19. If the number of new cases continue to rise, the construction industry will have to assess their initial response to be able to better protect their workplace health and safety going forward.

An article in OHS Canada states that contractors should assess whether the existing health and safety measures are sufficient if the risk to employees were to increase. This will help employers determine what further changes need to be made.

“Employers may want to assess their staffing requirements to see if they can bring down capacity in their workplace,” said Hope McManus, head of health and safety at occupational health and safety consultancy Peninsula Canada. “Reducing physical contact with the help of technology, such as contactless payment, self-serve options, automation and other virtual services is also encouraged. It is important that all workers know how to physically distance, use protective equipment and practice increased hygiene. Making sure employees are following these rules should be a top priority for management.”

If a second wave does hit, now is the time for businesses to be preparing their workplaces and employees.

The following procedures could make a real difference:

  • Updating your COVID-19 plan
  • Ordering enough hygiene supplies and personal protective equipment
  • Providing updated and ongoing education to your staff

Every workplace should have a COVID-19 plan which states the following:

  • How risks have been assessed and mitigated
  • How new work procedures will be implemented
  • What will be done if an employee contracts the virus
  • The workplace’s plan for contact tracing among other information

Staff should be educated on all elements of the plan and receive training where necessary.

Some workers may also require other forms of support. As the pandemic continues, some individuals might experience poor mental health, fear or anxiety.

Creating a feedback system where employees can anonymously express their concerns can make a big difference. This can help the employee’s mental well being and give them a sense of control over their working conditions.

Building.ca states that the construction industry has also been greatly affected financially and their projections for the remainder of 2020 reveal 51 per cent of contractors expect to do less work in the September to December period compared to last year where 19 per cent of contractors expected to do more work.

Approximately 37 per cent of contractors expect it to be more difficult to obtain skilled labour compared to September to December 2019, while 10 per cent expected it to be less difficult. Of course, if the second wave of COVID-19 starts rising again, this could get a lot worse.

Another article in OHS Canada stated that employers will have to get used to a new normal which includes lowering expectations, being flexible and making sure workplaces are safe for the employees.

Productivity can be greatly impacted if your employees don’t feel safe on their job or you are faced with a COVID-19 outbreak. All guidelines issued by the provincial ministry of labour should be reviewed and every reasonable precaution should be taken.

Seeking input from workers is very important. Setting a goal and starting with a plan is a start but receiving feedback from workers on how their jobs are impacted by the various control measures is paramount so that modifications can be made

“The good news is that when employers listen to feedback from workers while still keeping the key goals of infection prevention at the top of the list, the employers were able to implement controls that allowed their business to re-open successfully with workers who felt confident about the safety of their work,” said Troy Winters, senior health and safety officer at the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Ottawa.

Employers should adopt policies that allow workers to stay home with pay to care for a sick family member and abolish attendance-management programs while workers who exhibit flu-like symptoms should also be sent home with pay.

PPE should be used as an added layer of protection along with placing markers on the floor and setting hallways for one-way travel. This would limit unnecessary interactions. Disposable wipes, hand-sanitizing liquid and masks for workers close to each other are also very important steps that should be adhered to. For outdoor construction work, it is best to create small teams for workers who are on-site so they stay within their bubble.

Employers need to stay in control of situations. When a case of COVID-19 is confirmed in the workplace, the employer should disinfect all surfaces that the worker might have touched and alert anyone who might have been in contact with that person.

Editor’s note: Jim Lamelza is DataBid’s president and this article originally was published in its weekly eletter. The story concluded with this note:“This is, indeed, a confusing time for the construction industry. DataBid is working tirelessly to report and distill the news that can help you and your company make the right decisions and keep you up to date on the constant changes as they are made. We hope our coverage brings some clarity amid all the confusion.”

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