As construction sites have had to change on a dime to adjust to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, communication and clarity regarding safety has become crucial.
The Council of Construction Associations (COCA), which represents the major construction associations in the province and acts on behalf of the construction industry in all WorkSafeBC matters, has been working to streamline communication with the safety agency.
First, COCA created a fast channel of communication with WorkSafe to move questions back and forth.
“Workers are first,” said Dave Baspaly, COCA President. “We don’t want anyone to be unsafe or make a mistake because of something they didn’t know.”
The association has also been hosting virtual town halls with a delegation of WorkSafeBC senior directors. To further deal with the many questions coming, COCA has created a “Help Desk” where builders can get rapid answers on WorkSafeBC-related inquiries. Baspaly said answers, advice or validation from WorkSafeBC can often be obtained from the tool and its experts in just a few hours.
“Some days we are getting questions all day from morning until night,” Baspaly said, noting that as life has adjusted to the reality of COVID-19, the questions from the industry are changing.
The first week was all about fear. Baspaly said COCA was hearing concern about what the crisis means and what businesses – especially smaller sub trades – could do to protect their employees.
“They were worried about how to feed families and those are tough calls to take,” Baspaly said.
As it became clear construction in B.C. would continue with safety restrictions, COCA and others began getting technical questions about social distancing in a construction environment, protocols if one has to drive in a vehicle with another worker and other specifics.
More recently, the association began receiving inquiries about being able to maintain work as the crisis continues and peer shaming those who are not following guidelines from the provincial health officer.
“If you aren’t doing the right thing, there is no tolerance,” said Baspaly. “We want to see everybody go to work and come home safe. This is a silent killer, potentially, and we are really relying on the chief medical officer in terms of what to do.”
Baspaly said many in the industry are now asking about plans to return to normal and reboot the economy.
“Construction feels like they can be a driver to get things moving,” he said. “Like the road builders who already socially distance. Let’s start chugging this economy along to take the pressure off other sectors.”
Baspaly said recently the group has been getting technical questions about how businesses can take advantage of government relief programs to stay afloat and keep employees working. Baspaly explained many are worried about bankruptcy and the irreparable damage it could do to those who then can’t find new work.
“This is unprecedented, but we have been getting mixed messages,” said Baspaly. “We are hearing about maybe relaxing things in the west as the curve comes down. But we are also hearing from the government that they want to see this out to the end of the year. Our sector is looking for certainty.”
Despite the uncertain road ahead, Baspaly said he was proud of the way the industry has responded to the crisis.
“We all went virtual overnight,” said Baspaly, noting the BC Construction Safety Association, Vancouver Regional Construction Association, the BC Building Trades and others have been working towards the same goal of keeping workers safe.
“I haven’t seen that in my whole career where everybody in construction has put all politics aside to see how we can be helpful, and to me that is awesome.”