The Ontario Construction Consortium (OCC) has renewed its call for the Ontario government to shut down construction sites for 14 days until the situation can be improved for the health and safety of workers during the COVID-19 crisis.
“We would like to see all truly non-essential sites — the majority of the ICI and residential sites — shut down for two weeks,” said Phil Gillies, OCC executive director on March 31.
“We would like to see the companies, the workers and government get their heads together and put in place — to use the (Ontario) Premier’s (Doug Ford) words with regards to seniors homes — we would like to see an iron ring of security placed in and around construction sites so, once that’s done and everyone is satisfied with the measures in place, that the sites can reopen and people can go off to work with some confidence that their safety is intact.”
The call was made following Ontario labour minister Monte McNaughton’s statement Ontario Stepping Up Measures to Limit the Spread of COVID-19 on Construction Sites, released March 29, which calls for better on-site sanitation, better communication on health and safety policies, enabling greater distances on jobsites and better tracking and monitoring of workers.
The OCC, representing 10,000 members from the Carpenters’ and Painters’ unions, said this is not always happening on sites and it is difficult to monitor and enforce.
Its not safe for more than five people to congregate together but it is OK for dozens of construction workers to go to a jobsite and be in close proximity,
— Phil Gillies
Ontario Construction Consortium
“We were pleased to see the minister obviously taking this matter very seriously and laying down a framework that companies are expected to follow. We see this as a positive development but our feeling still is that a temporary shut down is needed because of the numerous reports we are hearing from jobsites about unsafe and unsanitary conditions,” said Gillies.
He said that workers on highrise projects are reporting it is difficult to maintain physical distance when required to ride up elevators in groups and lift a heavy beam or sheets of drywall with two or three other workers. In addition, companies that service portable toilets are nowhere to be seen, leaving unsanitary conditions on site and there is often no hand sanitizer available by noon most days.
“All of these things are a great concern,” Gillies said. “We now have confirmed reports of workers and their families associated with several construction sites who have tested positive for the virus. I hate to say it but I think when you look at the conditions as they are, I fear there are going to be more people that turn up positive in the days and weeks to come.”
A worker on highrise project on Wellesley Street East in Toronto and the spouse of a Vaughan, Ont. construction worker have tested positive, Gillies noted.
“That’s why we think a good pause is needed on all but the very most essential jobsites so that the whole industry and government can look at the situation and put in place what needs to be put in place,” he said.
“There are mixed signals coming out where governments are now saying its not safe for more than five people to congregate together but it is OK for dozens of construction workers to go to a jobsite and be in close proximity to one another.”
While some are urging that construction keep going and remain an essential service, Gillies said there is not unanimity in the industry and it is a matter of competing priorities.
“Some are urging to keep going, that we have to provide the housing or commercial or institutional buildings that are under construction. We are aware of that and we’ve weighed that but the organizations that I represent … we have come down on the side of their safety being the most important factor. If some projects have to be delayed somewhat, in order to adequately protect the health and safety of workers, then that has to be the case,” Gillies explained.
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.