It Is Time to Open All of Construction
Recently, the media has reached out to the OGCA wanting information on allegations being made by some construction workers that construction sites in Toronto were not adhering to COVID-19 protocols and procedures. The media personnel were asking if construction was doing enough to protect the workers.
In a recent Toronto Star article from February 16, 2021, titled, “‘It’s just a flu’: COVID prevention rules are often ignored on Toronto construction sites…,” the article denotes that “many work sites in Toronto deemed essential during the stay-at-home order are rife with COVID-19 rule violations, including people working in confined spaces while not wearing face masks.”
The OGCA openly contributed to that article, not in agreement with any such allegations, but instead as the voice of the construction industry in support of the quantifiable efforts by our contractors to keep workers safe. We wanted all media to know that construction was going above and beyond to ensure that workers were safe.
Did the article attempt to demonize construction and suggest that our industry was placing a higher emphasis on productivity over safety? I will let you read the article, and you can reach your own conclusions, but I wanted to assure our members that the OGCA has been working diligently with the Chief Prevention Office (CPO) and the Ministry of Labour (MOL) to ensure that COVID-19 is kept in check and that workers safety is placed first and foremost.
Let me provide some insight on how the construction industry is ensuring that workers are being kept safe.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the OGCA Safety Committee, in collaboration with the (CPO) and the MOL, worked collaboratively to produce a functional industry safety standard, titled: “Construction Site Health and Safety During COVID-19 Guide to Employers.” This document was produced in only three days with tireless involvement of the industry and with the intent of it being the evolving guidance document for construction.
Furthermore, the CPO has been a permanent fixture at the OGCA Safety Committee meetings, which occur every two weeks. The pandemic and worker safety are continuous standing agenda items at every meeting, and the sharing of information has been unfettered between our respective organizations.
Incidentally, the Star article did note that the Ministry of Labour has worked effectively with construction, specifically the OGCA, to advance worker safety for the betterment of the entire industry. “From day one of the pandemic, our ministry has worked with the construction industry on the implementation of new health and safety guidelines on work sites, increased enforcement, and rigorous inspections,” said press secretary Harry Godfrey. “Numerous shutdowns in the spring sent a clear message that any compromise of worker safety would not be tolerated.”
Clearly, the OGCA members and the entire construction industry are not diminishing our efforts to protect our workers. Instead, we are continually discussing, amongst ourselves and with the CPO office, what else we can do to ensure further adherence.
I believe that the evidence is clear that OGCA members have not only handled the threat of COVID-19 succinctly, but we have emerged as a leader in how to adequately protect our workers from the ongoing threat of contamination and community spread for all other industries to follow.
What evidence am I speaking of, you ask?
The construction industry has an exemplary track record with quantifiable evidence from the WSIB to support our success. As of February 22, 2021, the WSIB noted that of the 16,500 COVID-19 related claims, only 137 were submitted from the construction industry in its entirety. This is less than one half of one percent of all claims.
This collaboration on COVID-19 has continued to this day with active participation and involvement with all segments of the industry in how to keep our workers safe.
Contact tracing, antigen testing, continuing education through daily talks, company protocols and procedures, single points of entry to sites, scheduling amendments for adequate worker distribution, continuous company supervision, and so much more are still ongoing to ensure worker safety.
And let us not forget that workers have the right under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to refuse work that they deem unsafe, without repercussions, and with the protection of the MOL to back them. In addition to the rights of the workers, I know through anecdotal discussions with numerous OGCA members that they view their employees as their work family. They want to see each and every one of those employees go home to their own families daily and safely.
So, what was the intent of the article? Was it truly the perspective of all workers?
I do not believe that the sentiment of the article was to provide the viewpoint of all workers, but perhaps it is an isolated minority. Although each worker will have their own perception of their current circumstances, these view points are continuously influenced by the media and society’s general interpretation of the pandemic and when we, as a province, a country and a world, will see a return to “normal,” whatever that will look like.
So, to properly respond to the question, “Is construction doing enough?”, I would say the following:
The OGCA is proud of our contribution to the continued health and safety of our workers and will continue to be a strong proponent of the MOL guidance document that informs and instructs the industry in the proper means of protecting our workers from COVID-19.
Should any of our members require any health and safety information on COVID-19, please visit the OGCA website, or if you require any assistance from the OGCA, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 905.671.3969.