British Columbia’s safety enforcement authority is stepping up inspections as COVID-19 pushes the industry into new and risky territory.
WorkSafeBC recently announced an “inspectional initiative” to ensure British Columbia worksites are complying with new COVID-19 regulations.
Prevention officers will make sure employers and sub-contractors identify known and foreseeable hazards, evaluate the impact on workers and takes steps to control risks consistent with health and safety requirements and direction from public health officials, WorkSafeBC director of prevention field services Dan Strand said.
“The initial focus of the inspection will be to engage the employer and worker representatives in a conversation to determine if they have basic controls in place to ensure the health and safety of workers,” Strand said.
Areas of focus, he added, will include whether physical distancing is taking place, sufficient hygiene supplies are provided and if the employer is adhering to COVID-19 guidance from the B.C. provincial health officer.
Where plumbed facilities aren’t available employers must provide access to portable washroom and handwashing facilities, Strand said.
He explained that the inspections will be province-wide and “WorkSafeBC prevention officers will be inspecting B.C. construction sites for as long as necessary during this “unprecedented public health challenge.”
Enforcement measures are also a possibility if companies aren’t complying with new COVID-19 regulations, he said.
“WorkSafeBC will consider issuing orders for non-compliance and may issue stop-work orders if there is a high risk of serious illness. Penalties may be imposed for flagrant violations,” Strand said.
The safety of WorkSafeBC’s inspectors as they enter potentially unsafe or contaminated areas is also a top priority, he noted.
“We’ve developed an exposure control plan (ECP) for prevention officers during the inspection initiative, which includes training on the ECP and appropriate safe work procedures. Officers who access and inspect these workplaces are trained in this ECP and follow safe work procedures and physical distancing,” he said.
“We are also taking steps to reduce person-to-person contact, since many inspectional activities can be done remotely,” Strand added.
As the province’s population has retreated to their homes in order to self-isolate from the virus, WorkSafeBC has seen an increase in enquiries throughout the month of March, Strand said.
“In the last week, we have been getting between 200 and 350 enquiries per day about COVID-19 from workers and employers. While I don’t have detailed breakdowns available at this time, generally, the vast majority of callers are looking for health and safety information during the pandemic. However, we have also received calls about potential health and safety violations at worksites, and we take every one of these calls very seriously,” he said.
WorkSafeBC is also partnering with stakeholder safety and industry organizations to help spread information on the ongoing pandemic, Strand said.
“We also work closely with our stakeholders and industry associations such as the BC Construction Safety Alliance, BC Crane Safety, and the BC Common Ground Alliance to provide information to workers and employers, and to help them understand regulatory requirements and share useful tools to help protect workers during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
The BC Building Trades has been collecting questions from anonymous employees and forwarding concerns about specific worksites and implored WorkSafeBC to act previous to announcement of the inspection imitative on March 24.
“We are continuing to reach out to both workers and employers, and we are aware of the important concerns raised by the BC Building Trades,” Strand said. “Our outreach to workers and employers in the construction sector will continue as we all work together to reduce the risks of COVID-19.”