Ontario’s Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) flexed its muscles and took on a portfolio of important, albeit temporary, responsibilities during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic but now, says its CEO, it’s time to get back to basics.
The IHSA reported in its recent July newsletter that it has reopened after the shutdown of training programs in the early days of the pandemic with a resumption of a full scope of training and consulting services.
Enzo Garritano noted in an interview that many of its apprenticeship and health and safety training programs were allowed to launch as of June 12 but registration has been slow so it’s been necessary to engage in extra promotion.
“We are pushing the message that we are open, we are back to doing training, we are back to apprenticeship training face to face and we are doing it in a safe manner and following the protocols we helped create and are endorsed by public health and the Ministry of Labour,” Garritano said.
The Ministry of Labour reported in June that about 9,000 apprentices, 300 pre-apprentices, 148,000 workers taking Working at Heights programs and over 8,000 workers taking Joint Health and Safety Committee certification training programs had training cut short by the COVID-19 emergency orders issued in March.
The IHSA serves six industries in Ontario including construction, electrical and utilities, and transportation.
Garritano said distancing requirements limit the number of students in each classroom. As a result, fewer students are able to take courses and names are being added to waiting lists.
“It is a little more challenging,” Garritano said. “Every week it is getting busier and we are ramping up.
“But normal is not going to happen for a long time because of the restricted numbers.”
In an effort to find alternative ways to deliver training, the IHSA is prioritizing six to 10 high-volume programs that do not require hands-on training to be converted to a virtual platform.
The association has also created five free webinars on health and safety best practices during the pandemic, three related to construction.
Garritano said it has been a major challenge for IHSA staff to ensure the webinars are as up to date as possible, a task that extends to much of the IHSA’s products and guidelines.
“We are altering all of our guidance documents,” he said. “We have to keep them current. We are keeping our eyes on these moving targets to make sure we have the latest.”
Garritano said the reopening of the IHSA’s Toronto head office in June and the resumption of classes represented a return to a semblance of normalcy for the association after a blitz of ad hoc assignments called for by the provincial government during the spring.
The full staff complement of 170 or so IHSA workers began to work from home March 17 but before long field advisers were asked to conduct assessments of the sanitary conditions of Ontario workplaces in advance of visits by Ministry of Labour inspectors, who would do the “enforcement piece,” Garritano explained.
“We were back at it in the field pretty quickly. We have done over 570 field consultations and over 1,100 phone consultations,” he reported, noting such consultations have been undertaken by the IHSA in the past but not as intensely as this spring.
“We were part and parcel of that initiative about what was the right thing to do and how to do it. We were hands on, 32 guys in the field three time a week.”
Meanwhile, other IHSA policy specialists began to work on the urgent job of preparing the first construction worksite health and safety protocols.
The Residential Construction Council of Ontario and the Ontario General Contractors Association put together an original base document and the chairs of the Construction 21 Committee endorsed the guidelines, Garritano explained. The IHSA reviewed the proposed document for technical accuracy and facilitated stakeholder input.
The guideline was delivered to the chief prevention officer, revised and released March 28.
The IHSA then put together all the specific COVID-19 guides that were released for the sectors it serves, working with public health and Ministry of Health officials.
“That was really a big effort on the part of our internal staff,” Garritano said.
IHSA staffers were also asked to work with the Public Services Health and Safety Association to do risk assessments at courthouses, and staff have also done the same job at Service Ontario outlets.
“I think the significant thing was, we demonstrated that the subject-matter expertise in the sector we served was of utmost importance in moving forward and helping to keep the industries open,” Garritano said. “Our sector specificity was critical because without that, how do you help them stay open?”