Unions demand improved safety protocols at construction sites

Unions are calling on companies to keep their workers safe and tighten up the rules amid the pandemic as violations and inspections mounted across the province.

Phil Venoit, business manager for the IBEW Local 230, which represents about 1,400 workers in the construction and maintenance industries on the Island, said the most recent data shows construction companies in B.C. have received 85 COVID-related orders by WorkSafeB.C.

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That’s about 20 per cent of the 435 violations cited by the provincial agency since strict safety protocols were put in place at the start of the pandemic.

“It’s disappointing,” said Venoit. “The only way forward through this pandemic is with proper sanitation on and off the job, continuing to practise physical-distancing in every situation, washing your hands frequently, wearing the proper PPE, sending workers home when they report feeling sick, and shutting down those that refuse to treat their workers and the industry with the professional respect it deserves.”

Venoit said the construction industry accounts for about 12% of the province’s GDP and can’t become a “virus transmission point” because it will be the main driver in any economic recovery. “Construction was deemed essential in March and will likely remain that way until some employers return to old and bad habits of improper sanitation protocols, and sooner or later decimate an industry that is poised to pull B.C. through the economic difficulties ahead.”

WorkSafe B.C. data as of Aug. 7 indicates that most violations issued so far are in the service sector, including hotels, restaurants and hair salons, where there have been 146 orders issued after prevention officers observed health and safety violations.

Manufacturing sites such as sawmills, breweries and meat plants had 102 violations while the trade sector involving retail stores, supermarkets and service stations have been cited 75 times by WorkSafe B.C.

Craig Fitzsimmons, director of government and media relations with WorkSafe B.C., said the agency has received 2,617 reports of potential violations related to COVID-19 protocols.

He said WorkSafe B.C. has conducted about 15,000 workplace inspections.

More than one-third of those inspections — 5,754 — have been in the service sector such as restaurants. Retail operations have been inspected 3,334 times while construction sites have been the focus of 2,862 investigations.

“The focus of our inspections has been to ensure that employers have a COVID-19 safety plan in place. As part of the safety plan, employers need to assess the risks to workers and implement measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace,” Fitzsimmons said.

“We’re finding that the vast majority of employers in B.C. take occupational health and safety very seriously and want to be in compliance. However, enforcement measures will be used when necessary. We’ve issued more than 400 orders for non-compliance, as of Aug. 7.”

UFCW 1518, which represents unionized grocery and drug store workers among others, called on the B.C. government and retail employers to enforce the mandatory wearing of masks to prevent the spread of the virus in busy retail locations.

“Retail workers remain on the front lines of this pandemic and deserve action from their government and their employers to keep them, and the public, safe,” said UFCW 1518 president Kim Novak.

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