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Construction sites to remain open in Ontario

Photo by Yancy Min on Unsplash

In response to the COVID-19 situation and the need to enforce physical distancing, the Government of Ontario has ordered the temporary closure of all non-essential businesses as of midnight tonight, Thursday March 24.

Architects and construction sites have the green light to remain open under this directive. The list of “essential workplaces” issued by the government includes “construction work and services, including demolition services, in the industrial, commercial, institutional and residential sectors.” The list specifically highlights “construction projects and services associated with the healthcare sector, including new facilities, expansions, renovations and conversion of spaces that could be repurposed for health care space” and “construction projects and services required to ensure safe and reliable operations of critical provincial infrastructure, including transit, transportation, energy and justice sectors beyond the day-to-day maintenance” within the sector.

Professional services, “including lawyers and para-legals, engineers, accountants, translators” are also included on the list of essential workplaces.

Remote working (teleworking) and online commerce are permitted at all times for all businesses, regardless of whether they are on the list.

The construction industry has come together to release a best practice guide and urges all employers to follow it during this time of uncertainty so that construction can continue to operate safely. The industry best practice guide includes seven safety recommendations developed by health and safety experts in Ontario’s construction industry and endorsed by labour and management representatives. They come from a document called “COVID-19: What you need to know about Health and Safety and Working On-Site.”

They include: 1. Maintain good personal hygiene: Everyone should avoid touching their faces with unwashed hands. Cough and sneeze into your elbow or a tissue and wash your hands often.

2. On-site Sanitation:  All employers have an obligation to provide access to more handwash stations with soap and water, washroom facilities, commonly touched surfaces or areas (hoists, site trailers, door handles, equipment or residential units), and an increased cleaning schedule.

3. Practise physical distancing: Employers can stagger start times, breaks, lunches, total number of people on site and coordinate pinch points, including hoists and site trailers, to keep people safely apart (one metre away or more). Limit unnecessary on-site contact between workers and outside service providers – for example, cancel the coffee truck.

4. Communicate policies: Employers must ensure everyone on site has a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities in health and safety is essential. COVID-19 policies need to be posted and communicated to all employees, contractors and trades, including sanitization practices, ensuring physical distancing and how work will be scheduled.

5. Protect your family and roommates: On-site workers should wash clothes as soon as they get home.

6. Report illness: Everyone should notify their supervisor and call public health immediately if they experience cold or flu-like symptoms. They must go home and self-isolate for 14 days. When home, complete the self-assessment on the Ontario COVID-19 website and follow instructions, or call telehealth, your local public health unit or your family physician.

7. Track sick workers: This will allow employers to better inform public health partners if issues arise on site. In addition, keeping health and safety representatives, the joint health and safety committee and trade union representatives informed will increase transparency and the flow of communication.

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