The BC Building Trades Council is calling for WorkSafeBC to enforce construction safety regulations after putting out a public call for construction workers to share site sanitary conditions during the COVID-19 crisis.
Comments from workers included a lack of access to washroom facilities, running water, and soap or hand sanitizer, as well as sharing of tools and work in small spaces with no allowances for social distancing, a BC Building Trades release stated.
“Workers are pleading for help ― this is urgent. The Building Trades are focused on the facts on the ground. I have been in direct contact with the top brass at WorkSafeBC about this. We need more hand-washing stations. We need better social distancing. Regulations on paper mean nothing if they are not being enforced on the ground,” BC Building Trades executive director Andrew Mercier said.
Mercier called a WorkSafeBC announcement on March 24 to begin an “inspectional initiative” to address sanitation on worksites as an “important first step.”
“It’s important that WorkSafeBC takes construction site sanitation seriously using the tools in their toolbox: inspection, enforcement and compliance,” he said.
But Mercier said the industry must remain vigilant to the danger posed by COVID-19.
“It doesn’t matter if you are union or non-union. If this is a problem on your work site, it is unacceptable. Tell us and we will continue to pressure WorkSafe to act. Health directives are helpful, but we need action. We know what the solutions are — we need compliance. Everyone has the right to refuse unsafe work, and we need to work together to provide a safe work site to get through this,” he added.
BC Building Trades is forwarding all information received about worksite sanitation to senior WorkSafeBC executives, the release stated.
Anecdotally residential tower construction projects had the most need for sanitizing stations but the industry is diverse and needs vary sector to sector, Mercier said.
“With civil construction and roadbuilding it feels like much less of a concern because if a worker is in the cab of a truck an or excavator it’s much easier to socially distance,” he said.
Mercier stressed the importance of finding safe ways to work when possible and to put down the tools when necessary.
“The virus could go on for a while and construction is key to maintaining infrastructure and supply chains in the province,” he said.
“Everywhere where there has been a full shutdown like New York or California for example, most construction has been maintained and critical infrastructure and civil projects have been maintained due to supply chains,” Mercier said, while stressing the need to comply with recommendations to maintain worker health.
“When we get through this at end of day construction will be a big part of B.C. getting back on its feet and we need healthy workers to do that,” he said. “There’s a lot of work but it has to be done safely.”
“We’re not scientists. I just learned what an epidemiologist does last week, but it’s important to follow the science on this. It could go on for months or years and we need to find a way to maintain the work,” Mercier added.
He also encouraged the industry to tackle health concerns head-on using the same ingenuity used on large, complex projects.
“The construction industry is characterized by entrepreneurialism and solutions to complicated problems. Installing hand washing stations shouldn’t be difficult,” Mercier said.