To its great relief, the British Columbia construction industry was declared an essential service early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
But COVID-19 doesn’t distinguish between essential and non-essential services and prudent construction employers and their employees continue to take care that their worksites don’t also become infection sites.
In addition to such pandemic-fighting protocols as masks, distancing and handwashing, B.C. construction has two other ways of keeping the COVID-19 wolf from the door, rapid testing and vaccinations.
Dr. Dave Baspaly, president of the Council of Construction Associations, said rapid testing will make construction workers safer.
“The construction industry wants to provide a gold-standard response,” he said. “We’re working as a team to get the best possible resources to the industry to protect worksites and workers.”
In early May, it was announced the federal government and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce network will be working together to distribute hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 rapid test kits to businesses across the country.
The national program is based on the successful Cambridge Chamber of Commerce/Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce pilot project to distribute kits to small- and medium-sized businesses.
The goal of the program is to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by supporting workplaces that are operating or that are set to reopen.
But before the screening tests can be administered, a distribution infrastructure needs to be built, said Fiona Famulak, president and CEO of the BC Chamber.
“The infrastructure has many moving parts,” said Famulak. “The kits have to be received and distributed, the providers have to be trained, the test results reported to the Ministry of Health and the business community educated. That’s a lot to do.
“In addition, each province has different rules on rapid testing in the workplace and who can administer the tests, and we need to respect those rules.”
In early May, B.C. backed off on the requirement that only registered health professionals can administer rapid tests to screen for COVID-19 in the workplace. Now the tests can be given by trained providers.
“B.C.’s change was a step in the right direction,” said Famulak.
More information on rapid testing, including how to administer a rapid test, is available here.
The prognosis for screening by rapid testing is positive.
At the University of British Columbia’s Orchard Commons residences, 3,500 voluntary rapid tests revealed 25 asymptomatic students who tested positive for the virus.
Vancouver Coastal Health staff identified six clusters of the virus and told the students to isolate, which prevented further outbreaks in student housing.
And in Nova Scotia, the province’s community rapid testing centres have discovered at least 285 COVID-19 cases in asymptomatic people, according to the Nova Scotia Health Authority.
A few days after the May rapid testing announcement, there was more good news.
Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health, two of the five B.C. regional health authorities, said they were designing and implementing a vaccination program for the construction industry.
Anyone who works in construction in the Lower Mainland and are in either the Fraser Health or Vancouver Coastal Health region can book their vaccine appointments online now.
Darin Hughes, president of Scott Construction Group, said his company sent a notice of the vaccination program to all of its teams.
“We made sure they had access to all the information they needed,” said Hughes.
Ledcor Group is also participating in the program.
“While I cannot comment on the exact number of Ledcor employees who have been vaccinated or who are planning to do so, for privacy reasons, what I can say is Ledcor is supportive of the program and is encouraging our employees and contractors to get the vaccine,” said Mike de Jong, health, safety and environment manager. “Ledcor has distributed the construction sector letter and registration information and vaccine FAQs, to help reduce any hesitancy.”
The BC Construction Safety Alliance (BCCSA) has been getting the word out to construction employers and workers about the vaccination program.
“I’m impressed at how fast and efficient the B.C. construction industry, working with Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health, was able to develop an effective vaccination communications strategy,” said BCCSA executive director Mike McKenna. “One of the lessons of COVID-19 is that the construction industry can open things up again if we just get together and co-operate.”
The following information from each health region explains the vaccination appointment process and how to book.
- Fraser Health Region construction sector
- Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) Region construction sector
- VCH registration and booking tips
- VCH – COVID-19 vaccine frequently asked questions