Industry’s commitment to health and safety prevented large-scale construction shutdown: OCC

covid 19 safety talk
A COVID-19 safety talk at the Tomlinson Group in Ottawa

By Robin MacLennan
Ontario Construction News staff writer

The commitment of contractors and construction workers to adhere to public health regulations and safety measures at worksites has paid off by preventing an industry shutdown, says Phil Gillies, executive director at the Ontario Construction Consortium.

“The industry and the construction unions really stepped up,” Gillies said in an interview on Wednesday. “Measures were put in place very quickly and they have been extremely effective.”

Associations supporting Ontario’s new regulations to combat COVID-19

Safety measures include a requirement for a source of clean running water on construction sites, the ability to space workers – particularly challenging on a high-rise project where the use of the construction elevator is a big consideration. Also, personal protective equipment must be available for all workers.

“I think one of the reasons we are seeing so many construction sites being allowed to carry on now is because we have had such extraordinary success since March,” Gillies said.

A snapshot of 10,000 COVID cases in Ontario released recently showed that fewer than 100 of positive cases originated on construction sites.

“Compared to a lot of sectors in the economy, the construction industry is operating in a safe, responsible manner and I think that’s reflected in the new rules.”

Of more than 10,000 COVID-related Workplace Safety and Insurance Board claims since the pandemic began, 93 have been in construction, 11 of those in residential construction.

While the majority of construction work can continue during the stay-at-home order and state of emergency currently in place across Ontario, “non-essential” work has been halted.
The long list of essential projects includes work at hospital and long-term care facilities, schools and community colleges, government contracts including transit projects and many residential and renovation projects that started prior to Jan. 12.

“At this point there is some confusion,” Gillies said. “For example, if a condo building is going up next to an office building, the condo can carry on through the lockdown but the office building construction ends at midnight tonight.  The two jobsites could have identical health and safety measures – but they are treated differently.”

According to the province, construction projects involving office towers without any residential or retail component, strip malls, and residential construction jobs that hadn’t already started by Tuesday will all have to temporarily shut down operations.

The Niagara Home Builders’ Association (NHBA) and the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA) issued a joint statement on Wednesday supporting the Ontario government’s limited shutdown.

“We need to pull together. We all want to be safe at home and at work,” said Joe Vaccaro, CEO of OHBA. “With these new restrictions, the Ontario government continues to make public safety the priority. While the new restrictions will slow the delivery of new housing for some projects, case levels have gotten to the point that all sectors and residents must be part of the solution.

Gillies also cautioned that now is not the time to “let our guard down.”

“Our number one priority is the health and safety of construction workers . . . the tradespeople, the apprentices, the people out on the job sites have to be working in safe conditions and that must take precedence over any deadline, any scheduling or profit motives.”


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