The Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) is counting on heightened workplace health and safety protocols that could include regular testing and contact tracing to keep builders working through a second wave of COVID-19.
OGCA director of government relations David Frame said he interpreted a recent survey of Ontario employers conducted by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce as giving the contractors ammunition to approach the government to lobby for its support for COVID-19 testing and tracing in the sector.
Over 100 contractors participated in the chamber’s study of business attitudes conducted between May 9 and 20, out of 461 respondents. Sixty-six per cent of respondents said they would like to be able to test their workforce to more effectively manage the virus, and 57 per cent support a requirement that they use digital software to support contact tracing.
The use of tools such as testing and tracing “leads us to a discussion with the industry and government about employer’s management of the health of their workers and ability to quickly identify workers testing positive and manage the safety of those whom they work with,” Frame wrote in a note to OGCA members discussing the survey.
“We have to project forwards that it can easily be a year or two years before we have an effective vaccine so we have got to find ways to keep our workers safely working and keep the industry open,” said Frame in an interview, noting the construction sector has been working hard to develop effective best practices over the last three months.
“If we put all of those best practices in place, we should be able to come as close as possible to keeping our worksites COVID-free. If you keep it COVID-free you are going to continue to work through the pandemic and through the second wave. And that is the goal.”
Frame noted the government wants more testing done and some contractors would probably love more testing to make sure their sites are clean and to instil confidence in workers. As for tracing, most big contractors have programs in place and Frame said he would like it to go industry-wide. That would add an extra level of security in case a worker goes home after testing positive, he said — they could not go to another site right away and their co-workers could be alerted.
The survey was conducted by Campaign Research with the OGCA as a supporter. The survey also sought the views of manufacturers, retailers, the distribution sector and other business leaders.
Other concerns highlighted by Frame include the finding that 69 per cent are concerned that employees will be reluctant to return to work, and 67 per cent are worried they will not have access to the personal protective equipment required to keep workers safe.
“There are some workers who are just so concerned if they get infected there are vulnerable persons at home, they don’t want to take a chance,” Frame said. “There is a certain proportion who have gone off and are receiving a level of government assistance and are saying, ‘let’s be careful, let’s not come back until we see what is happening and we can feel 100 per cent secure.’
“So communicating what we are doing and communicating the success of what we are doing is extremely important.”
Frame noted the ICI sector in the province was largely shut down for six weeks and that is an experience no one in the sector wants to repeat, thus the intensity he said the sector is showing in developing sector-specific health and safety standards and rapt attention being paid to daily COVID numbers in fear of a second wave.
“The industry is focused on how can we protect ourselves and protect our workers from having to shut down again,” Frame said. “We are actually finding that at most of our construction sites we can control access. When you control access you can be very careful that people who are on site are following rules and wearing PPE and are following social distancing rules that are in effect and are following Ministry of Labour guidelines and the guidelines employers have put in place.
“We have already gone to the government with most of our big-picture concerns,” said Frame. “Most of the work is being done through the CDAO (Construction and Design Alliance of Ontario) so we get a coherent and unified voice on this.”
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