Training of building trades workers has been essentially shut down across Ontario as fears of the spread of the coronavirus has prompted the provincial government to mandate against significant gatherings of people.
An online update posted March 16 from the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) noted that some jobsites had been closed down. Details were not immediately available.
The next morning, Premier Doug Ford announced a state of emergency and said gatherings of more than 50 people would be banned. But trade unions such as the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) and the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario, which have training centres across the province, had already suspended their training programs as had agencies such as the Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) and the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA).
Another provider of building trades training, the Ontario community college system, has been setting up online training programs to replace in-class sessions.
IHSA president and CEO Enzo Garritano said its health and safety messages have been following the lead of the province’s public health statements.
“We are not creating anything comprehensive as a specific guideline at this point because all sites and projects are different and government and medical advice should be the source of advice for action,” Garritano said.
Not only are the Carpenters’ training centres closed but students involved in the province’s high school Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) in partnership with the Carpenters’ have also been idled for three weeks.
“We had 80-plus OYAP students and the school boards have all shut down for the two additional weeks after March Break so we have pretty well followed suit,” stated Carpenters president Mike Yorke.
Confirming the shutdown of the LIUNA training programs, Victoria Mancinelli, director of communications for LIUNA’s Central and Eastern Canada office, commented, “We are working closely with the ministry and all locals to guide us through this time of uncertainty but the health and safety of members and our communities remains of top concern.”
The WHSC website stated, “For all legally required training, including Working at Heights training for construction workers and certification training for joint health and safety committee members, we understand the ministry of labour’s Chief Prevention Officer is considering the extension of completion and refresher training deadlines, as set out in approved standards.”
The OGCA post of March 16 urged construction employers to stay in frequent communication with their employees.
“Some jobsites have been closed down, and many workers don’t know if they should be showing up for work,” the OGCA stated. “Even if your operations continue, you must continue to update your employees.”
On March 17 the U.S.-based Associated General Contractors of America issued a statement reacting to what its CEO Stephen E. Sandherr called “steps being taken to put in place arbitrary halts to construction activity in certain parts of the country.
“Halting construction activity will do more harm than good for construction workers, community residents and the economy. Construction firms are already acting to ensure the safety and health of their employees in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. These new measures, which include increased hygiene and halting group gatherings of staff, are in addition to the fact construction workers already wear protective equipment, including gloves that will help protect them and their co-workers.”
Given those precautions, Sandherr said, halting construction will do little to protect the health and safety of construction workers.
“But it will go a long way in undermining economic vitality by depriving millions of workers of the wages they will need over the coming days,” he stated. “At the same time, these measures have the potential to bankrupt many construction firms who have contractual obligations to stay on schedule or risk incurring significant financial penalties.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.