With winter approaching and cases of COVID-19 on the rise, construction employers and workers are looking nervously into the future. Since much of the work is done outside, workers can take steps to social distance themselves. But, the question remains as to whether that will be enough.
Steps Employers and Workers Should be Taking to Limit Exposure
Stakeholders from the ICI and residential construction sectors, employers, health and safety experts and the government weighed in on the matter during a recent webinar presented by the Residential Construction Council of Ontario. Speakers offered up some of the dos and don’ts for the industry to follow.
“We really need to be extra vigilant in what we are doing. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
“We have to remain vigilant and protect workers and the public as we face this second wave of the pandemic,” Ontario Labour, Training and Skills Development Minister Monte McNaughton said. “We have to work together as we have to turn the tide.”
Ron Kelusky, Ontario’s chief prevention officer, said construction had so far fared relatively well. However, he noted, models show the caseload is expected to increase, so the industry has to keep its guard up.
“As we move forward, the numbers are going to get worse before they get better,” he warned. “We really need to be extra vigilant in what we are doing. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Best Practices Shared
Enzo Garritano, president and CEO of the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA), advised contractors to start early to ensure their worksites are safe and follow proper protocols.
He suggested putting up posters and stickers around worksites to remind workers to take precautions.
“You have to start early. Start now; don’t wait another month because you will be behind the eight ball.”
The IHSA is asking all individuals and employers to take precautions to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
The recommendations include:
- Washing hands often and thoroughly with soap and water
- Practising social distancing of two metres
- Coughing or sneezing into a tissue or sleeve, disposing of the tissue immediately and then cleaning hands with an alcohol-based scrub
- Keeping surfaces clean and disinfected
- Staying home if feeling ill
Challenges for Construction Jobsite
Ketan Patel, senior health and safety manager at Tribute Communities, said residential construction sites, in particular, are a challenge due to multiple entry points for workers. Tribute has created uniform messaging across its sites to remind workers and visitors of the protocols in place.
An issue, he noted, is that when workers leave the jobsite the employer doesn’t know where they’ve been over a weekend, for example, and when they return to work must be reminded to take precautions.
“We have to consistently put the message out there that the virus is still there.”
Winter Poses Problems
Stakeholders discussed how residential contractors would be dealing with washroom and comfort station facilities during the winter months. Some are considering installing heated stations and moving facilities into uncompleted homes.
“It’s a matter of getting prepared and realizing every job is different.”
Craig Lesurf, president of Gillam Group, stated it’s important to plan and educate everybody on a worksite about COVID-19. The company has used toolbox talks and employs social distancing. It also staggers breaks of workers, has as few people as possible on sites, and posts stickers reminding everybody about protocols.
The company has ordered ear muffs so workers don’t fiddle with their masks and is looking at hand sanitizer that can be used in low temperatures. However, noted Lesurf, communication will be the key to survival.
“It’s a matter of getting prepared and realizing every job is different and that you are going to have a bunch of unique plans,” he said.
Importance of Screening
During the discussion, contractors were advised to use a screening tool promoted by the government to gauge whether a worker or visitor is a risk.
Other suggestions included:
- Educating everybody on a worksite about best practices to follow
- Adhering to social distancing and staggering work shifts
- Ensuring companies continue to share best practices
- Rules should be consistent across multiple sites
- Making sure a plan is in place to respond to a confirmed case
“The second wave has come, probably stronger and sooner than we expected, but it has come all the same,” said Residential Construction Council of Ontario VP Andrew Pariser. “We must fight complacency and set an example for all other sectors in Ontario.
“The good news is this time we have the information that we need, and we know what to expect and what to do. This is a great advantage compared to March when new information was at a premium. The task is now to implement and execute.”