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Construction sector told to take precautions to prevent spread of virus

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is telling the construction sector to institute more safety protocols, increase cleaning stations and boost signs on job sites to protect workers.
A construction site in Langford.

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is telling the construction sector to institute more safety protocols, increase cleaning stations and boost signs on job sites to protect workers.

Many large construction projects are continuing on Vancouver Island but concerns are being raised about on-site procedures.

One local man, who has family working in this sector, said some locations need more sanitation stations and some were not complying with social distancing measures.

An order from Henry banning groups of 50 or more does not apply to construction sites as a whole, but there should not be more than 50 people in the same space under any circumstances, the province said in a statement Sunday.

Henry is telling employers to take precautions.

These include:

• Where possible, workers should maintain a distance of two metres apart from each other.

• Post signs limiting the number of people in any elevator to four at a time.

• Reduce in-person meetings and other gatherings and hold site meetings in open spaces or outdoors

• Increase the number of hand-washing stations and post signs identifying their locations.

• Maintain a list of employees working on sites and update this list daily.

• All common areas and surfaces should be cleaned at the end of each day. Examples include washrooms, shared offices, common tables, desks, light switches and door handles.

• Anyone with COVID-19-like symptoms, such as sore throat, fever, sneezing or coughing, must self-isolate at home for 14 days.

• B.C.’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulation has a minimum standard for providing washrooms and hand-washing facilities. Where plumbed facilities are not practical, employers must provide access to portable washroom and hand-washing facilities. Those facilities must be maintained in good working order and must be provided with supplies necessary for their use.

One long-standing Victoria construction company is closing down the majority of its worksites immediately because of concerns over the virus pandemic.

The exception for Knappett Projects is the multi-family Belmont Lot 2 in Langford. That project will continue because there are few employees on the site presently and because it is close to completion, company president John Knappett said Sunday.

Records of employment will be processed in the next few days, Knappett said in a letter to employees.

He asks employees to follow provincial directives, stay home and practise social distancing.

In the past week, most construction projects have been continuing, said Rory Kulmala, chief executive officer of the Vancouver Island Construction Association.

Some workers are not on the job because of concerns for themselves and at-risk family members, he said.

A construction association instructor, Mark Taylor, has offered his services, free of charge, to any association members wanting resources or help with their crisis response or business continuation planning.

Further information is available on the association website.

The B.C. Building Trades Council, representing 35,000 unionized workers throughout the province, is telling members that they have the right to refuse unsafe work.

Anyone being asked to work in unsafe conditions is asked to contact the organization, even if they are not union members, to allow that group to collect information to advocate on their behalf, and to also contact WorkSafe B.C.

COVID-19 has brought the hygiene practices at construction sites into laser focus, the council said.

WorkSafe B.C. occupational health and safety regulations require workplaces to have either fixed or portable washroom facilities that include provisions for hand-washing, and that these must be kept in clean and sanitary condition.

Similar provisions apply to where workers consume food, such as lunchrooms.

You have the right in B.C. to refuse unsafe work if you believe these conditions are not being met and present an undue hazard, the council said on its website.

As well, the council is calling on B.C. to scale down megaprojects in the province where thousands of workers are living in remote camps, such as Site C in northeastern B.C. and the LNG project in Kitimat.

“We are calling for remote-camp megaprojects in B.C. to be tooled down to all but essential or critical-path work,” said Andrew Mercier, council executive director.

“We need to flatten the curve and alleviate pressure on the rural health care systems.”

The council is urging Site C to follow LNG Canada, which has said that it would pare worker numbers at its Kitimat project to half of current levels over the coming week, and if needed would continue to reduce numbers.

Safety of workers is critical, said Mercier. “We need contractors to find those safe ways to keep operating so that critical services — air travel, health care, construction of vital infrastructure — can take place and support economic recovery in the months ahead.”

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