OCA, unionized trades council says Ottawa’s construction sites are safe, but the era of the Porta-Potty is over

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

Workers at most Ottawa construction jobsites are protected from contracting the COVID-19 but the few companies who are not taking proper precautions need to comply immediately, according to officials at the Ottawa Construction Association  (OCA) and the Unionized Building and Construction Trades Council.

The trades council and OCA issued a statement last Friday saying that they are focused on protecting the workers from contracting COVID-19 by ensuring all construction job sites follow safe work protocols.

Together, the two organizations are responsible for building more than 90 per cent of the Ottawa region’s $3 billion dollar commercial, industrial and institutional market.

To date, the OCA has gathered 8,000 N-95 respirator masks from member firms to donate them to area doctors, nurses, and public health professionals to improve their safety as they work to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Like all work sites during the pandemic, general contractors and employers need to protect their workers, and the families of these workers, from viral transmission,” said trades council president John Bourke. “That means the construction site, including elevators, must allow for physical distancing with at least two metres between workers, large-group meetings to be conducted electronically, and any necessary site meetings held in open spaces or outside. These are manageable changes to implement anywhere.”

Both organizations say they are monitoring all Ottawa construction sites for COVID-19 protocol and report that most of the sites are compliant. The organizations are formalizing a process to identify compliant, safe sites with a ‘gold star poster’, and the non-compliant sites with a black star.

“We have many exemplary construction sites and companies in Ottawa who prioritize the health and safety of their workers, the backbone of our industry,” said John DeVries, the OCA’s  president and general manager. “We expect that construction sites will now have higher standards of health and safety mandated because of the pandemic, but also because we are moving towards a more diverse workforce in the building and construction trades, including women, Indigenous people,  persons with disabilities, and new Canadians. The era of the porta-potty is over, thankfully.”

For its part, the unionized trades council agrees their 39,000 members are entitled to jobsites that are kept clean, including washrooms, shared offices, common tables, desks, light switches and door handles.

“We know that plumbed facilities with soap and running water are possible on construction sites, as long as it is made a priority,” DeVries said. “Workers must have access to clean toilets and hand-washing facilities, sanitizing hand rub dispensers and handwashing stations that are maintained in good working order and stocked with the right supplies.  This is what all worksites require, including construction sites.”

On site workers need to be provided with personal protective equipment, including safety goggles, masks, and gloves, with the equipment never shared and made readily available.

“All sites maintain a list of current employees at work, and so those who have travelled outside the country, or have COVID-19 symptoms, are not permitted to enter a jobsite for fourteen days,” said . Bourke. “Excuse employees for sickness without requiring a doctor’s note, have clear preventive measures in place, and communicate those measures to ensure compliance. This is a new world order and like all businesses, the building and construction industry can and will adapt now.”

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