The construction industry should be applauded for its efforts in preventing the spread of COVID-19 on jobsites, said Enzo Garritano, president and CEO of the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA), during a recent webinar hosted by the Ontario Road Builders’ Association (ORBA).
As of Aug. 12, Garritano said there have been 10 cases that have been accepted through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board related to workplace exposure to COVID-19 in construction.
“When we think about the number of workers, the amount of work that was done at the height of the pandemic, really the industry needs to be commended for its efforts,” Garritano said. “Ten is too many, however, in the big picture of things, it was a very, very low number compared to what was happening early on.”
Garritano stated the sector adapted quickly during the pandemic and some of that can be attributed to having a proper health and safety management system in place.
During the webinar, Leveraging Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems in Times of Crisis, he said these systems should identify hazards, prioritize risks and implement controls with COVID-19 being treated like any other risk or hazard.
“COVID is considered a risk or a hazard, just like moving equipment,” explained Garritano.
“Use your process that’s been developed. COVID becomes another risk that you identify and look for controls for it.”
A health and safety management system is a framework put in place by employers to manage risk, establish controls and minimize incidents of injuries, illnesses and fatalities to the workers, said Garritano, adding RACE – recognize, assess, control and evaluate – helps maintain workplace safety.
“The health and safety management system is very similar to other functions of a company,” he told the webinar audience. “All of these health and safety management systems really are founded on the ‘plan, do, check, act,’ kind of process. It’s a process of continuous improvement in what you do.
“You want to establish what you’re going to do, you do it, you monitor it, you look for ways to make it better.”
There are a few different health and safety management systems out there, Garritano said. IHSA oversees the Certificate of Recognition (COR) program in Ontario, with the latest version, COR 2020, released in January. Other standards include ISO 45001 and ISO 18001.
“Our end game here is really the reduction in injuries and illnesses and, in the case of the pandemic, of illness and spreading of the illness across communities and across workplaces,” Garritano said.
He pointed out most sectors in construction were all open and deemed essential services from the outset of the pandemic.
“A lot of the companies augmented, reviewed their processes and continued to work,” he said. “There was no stop or very limited stop in order to get those processes in place. The processes go as far as your training requirements, your communication to your members and your senior staff, as well as work with your subcontractors and how you communicate with them. A health and safety management system covers all these elements that are able to allow a company to continue to work in a very successful and protected way with all their staff.”
Garritano said during the height of the pandemic the IHSA identified their own risks related to different activities and areas in the organization, such as the classroom and the office.
“We got our staff together specifically for those areas of operations and worked through it with our health and safety co-ordinator,” said Garritano.
“We developed plans, developed methods to minimize the risks and then implemented them after the joint health and safety committee had an opportunity to review them. The buy-in is tremendous because it comes from the workers who are engaged in the health and safety management system overall. We worked together efficiently and effectively and are able to move forward.”
He stressed to ORBA members and the industry on the whole the importance of having a third party audit every company’s health and safety management system to ensure due diligence. He also said everyone in the company from the leadership team to the workers on the ground need to be involved in the process.
“You get people from your yards, people who move your equipment, maybe your subcontractors. You work very closely with them and bring together the solutions that are required in regards to the risks that you see from COVID or anything else,” said Garritano.
“Utilize the information that has been put together with regards to COVID. The guidance material that is produced through the Ministry of Labour, IHSA, through yourselves as a company. Bring that guidance material forward to your working groups and have them utilize those, not to recreate the wheel, but to utilize the best practices that have been developed. Implement them, evaluate them, improve them and that’s the name of the game in a health and safety management system.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.