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Open or closed? The status of construction sites in Canada during COVID-19

Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

As provinces roll out emergency measures, construction sites in some parts of the country are closing, while in others, they remain open.

Construction sites are presently closed in Quebec, with the exception of sites that are expanding the capacity of the province’s healthcare system, or that are related to dispatch, security and emergency services and rental equipment. Site visits by architects are also suspended until further notice.

In PEI, construction projects that received a development permit before or on March 27, 2020 are allowed to proceed, but new projects are considered “non-essential” and may not proceed with on-site work.

Construction sites continue to operate in other parts of the county, including in British Columbia and Ontario. Ontario is referring contractors to the Canadian Construction Association’s COVID-19 standardized protocols for all Canadian construction sites. The guide calls for enhanced measures including:

  • Detailed tracking of worker’s status on-site and off-site are kept at all time (e.g., fit to work, sick, off-work for family caring duties, etc.). A list of all quarantined workers is updated daily and their privacy maintained.
  • Construction site and site trailer cleaning protocols.
  • All offices and jobsites implement additional cleaning measures of common areas as recommended by the CDC and PHAC. All door handles, railings and personal workstation areas are wiped down twice a day with a disinfectant, such as disinfectant wipes.
  • Additional sanitary measures on site: water stations, a hand washing protocol, hand sanitizer stations, provision of disinfectant wiping products. Limiting and removing internal touch point areas.
  • Removal of doors and door handles wherever reasonable to do so.
  • Construction site is to be segregated to the extent possible in zones or other methods to keep different crews/ trades physically separated at all time.
  • One-way staircases are established wherever practical to minimize worker’s contacts.
  • Project teams stagger break and lunch schedules to minimize the number of people in close proximity to one another.

The Province of British Columbia has also issued guidelines to continue to allow construction sites to operate. They include limiting the occupants of elevators to a maximum of four people at a time, and holding site meetings in open spaces or outdoors.

The British Columbia Construction Association maintains a COVID-19 page with additional health and safety recommendations. It notes, “Many of you are writing to us urging that sites be shut down for two weeks to assess the extent of infection. Just as many are writing urging that sites stay open. All are calling for sites to be well regulated and monitored for appropriate health protocols, and for more clear direction from government that is unique to construction. We are relaying all this information to government and stakeholder groups and working together to improve order and introduce solutions that prioritize worker safety.”

Construction sites remain open, with similar precautionary measures in effect, in Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador,

“It is extremely important to take the necessary precautions at workplaces and construction sites to mitigate any risk of forced closure,” writes Women in Architecture Vancouver in a letter to the architectural community.

Mark Cooper, President and CEO of the Saskatchewan Construction Association, echoes the message in a post on the association’s website.  “If our industry wants the privilege of being able to continue to work, we all have an obligation to ensure we comply with all public health directives. Failure by any of us may lead to closure for all of us.”

Writes Cooper, “It is Comply or Goodbye. There is no other choice.”

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