Safety Week and Safety Month 2020 will not be proceeding according to original scripts.
Ontario construction health and safety advocate Craig Lesurf says plans for the usual team barbecues, dunk tanks, group demonstrations, safety talks and other special events have fallen by the wayside this month, replaced by new messaging and programming necessitated by the spread of COVID-19.
North American Occupational Safety and Health Week draws participants from across the continent the first full week in May to raise awareness about the importance of preventing injuries and illnesses at work, with some members undertaking programs throughout the month. Lesurf, president of the Gillam Group, is on the executive board of the Toronto Construction Association (TCA), serves as chair of the safety committee for the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) and is on the League of Champions steering committee, all of which are determined to mark Safety Week and Safety Month despite the sector’s preoccupation with establishing a “new normal” in workplaces across the province, said Lesurf.
“COVID-19 is overwhelming everyone,” said Lesurf. “Right now it is safety minute by safety minute.”
None of the agencies he is involved with thought about cancelling Safety Week, he said. Instead, there will be online programming or small-scale, in-person events with various messages being crafted to fit the times.
The TCA will be reaching out via social and mainstream media, Lesurf said, “with a message saying, many of our members are open for business and we are lucky because we are well prepared. It is the old saying, ‘you make your own luck.’ ”
Ontario’s construction sector has proven it can operate successfully during the pandemic, Lesurf said, with a limited number of site closings amidst a blitz of inspections by Ministry of Labour inspectors and just a handful of cases of COVID-19 found on jobsites.
“When we talk to the minister and the Chief Prevention Officer Ron Kelusky, he says, ‘you guys have got it together, you guys have a plan,’ ” Lesurf said.
Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton offered two Safety Month messages tailored to how workplaces are dealing with the pandemic in a recent interview.
“The people that are improving health and safety and conditions for workers across the province are unsung heroes,” he said. “From the Ministry of Labour inspectors to the joint health and safety committee representatives to the employers and labour leaders and workers who are making worksites safe, they are the unsung heroes.”
Additionally, said McNaughton, maintaining healthy and safe workplaces will be an integral part of Ontario’s recovery post-pandemic.
“The health and safety component is critical to reopening the economy and keeping people safe,” he remarked. “Not only will it play a role in keeping people healthy and safe with their well-being paramount, but they are also playing an economic role.”
Lesurf said he has heard from Ontario contractors who are preparing Safety Week and month events on an ad hoc basis with their prepared plans scuttled.
The League of Champions, newly constituted independent of the OGCA but still supported by the contractors, has decided to program a series of webinars given that public gatherings are not possible, with the broader construction sector targeted.
“We are rethinking how to interface with the community,” he said, noting many events they originally had planned for Safety Week and beyond were put on hold. “With our webinars, we have access to the leading professionals in Ontario, why don’t we get them speaking to all construction people?”
Lesurf said during Safety Month the League of Champions purposely decided to explore other aspects of health and safety that might be neglected during the pandemic, with the first topic being mental health in construction. On May 4 the League presented a webinar titled Supporting Employees’ Mental Health during COVID-19.
There are many more webinars to come, said Lesurf, and at this time it is planned that all will be free.
“Safety is not proprietary, especially at this time,” said Lesurf. “As an industry we have to come together.”
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