General contractors operating under strict COVID-19 health and safety standards should consider keeping those measures in place once the outbreak is over, believes one union official.
“If we can do it now, why in three months from now should we have people (general contractors) saying they can’t comply because it is too expensive?” says Horacio Leal, formworkers’ representative of Carpenters’ Union Local 27 in Toronto.
Leal points to the hygiene standards achieved at sites like the addition underway at the Michael Garron Hospital (MGH) in east Toronto as an example of what the construction industry should strive for after the COVID-19 pandemic passes.
The project comprises an eight-storey patient care tower and three-storey concrete cast-in-place addition to the hospital. The general contractor (GC) is EllisDon.
As workers step onto the site, they are met with a hygiene regime unheard of before the virus struck, says Leal. Each worker is screened daily and must go through a sanitization regime prior to site entry.
To maintain social distancing rules for workers onsite EllisDon has installed additional changerooms, staggered coffee and lunch breaks and provided separate stairways for going up and going down.
Everything EllisDon has implemented here for worker safety is top-notch,
— Ricardo Medeiros
Michael Garron Hospital Project Worker
The GC has also installed wash stations on every floor of the project. Each station includes disinfectant soap, sensor-operated faucets and blow-dry equipment. Washrooms have separate uses and are cleaned often.
Leal says in 35 years in construction he has never seen washrooms so clean.
“Sometimes (in the past) two or three times a month is all I saw on some sites but now we have a lot of sites, if the not the majority, being cleaned at least once a day, if not more often,” he states.
He adds if hiring crews to keep washrooms and other areas onsite clean seems too expensive to contractors, they should think of it as an investment against potential lost worker productivity because of illness.
Leal says while EllisDon has set the bar high, it is not alone.
“I see these measures at the Easterns, the PCLs and the Birds,” he says. “I believe a good 70 to 75 per cent of the jobsites implement them.”
Not everything is perfect, however.
Social distancing is difficult, if not impossible, at times where teamwork necessitates working close. Pairs of formworkers, for example, are less than four feet apart when releasing concrete from a bucket on a crane.
“It is one scenario of many where the trade can’t meet social distancing,” says Leal.
Ricardo Medeiros, a health and safety representative and carpenter for one of the subcontractors at the hospital addition, says workers are “put at ease” at sites like MGH because of the high sanitary standards and the project meets public health guidelines on social distancing.
“Everything EllisDon has implemented here for worker safety is top-notch,” he says.
Mike Yorke, president of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario, says work by EllisDon and its subtrades at the hospital is evidence that rigorous safety protocols can be met on a big project.
“The hospital plays a crucial health care role in Toronto’s east end and moving that project forward in a safe and healthy manner is key to bringing needed health care to Toronto’s east end,” Yorke says. “We have supported many of the hospital’s fundraising initiatives and here is an example where we are supporting their needs.”
The hospital addition is a design by B+H Architects and Diamond Schmitt Architects.