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B.C. construction workers concerned about sanitation amid coronavirus outbreak

Global News and CKNW have received a number of calls and emails from construction workers concerned about sanitation on their worksites. AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Health officials in B.C. have said construction sites are so far not areas of high concern for transmission during the COVID-19 outbreak, when gatherings were limited to 50 people.

But a large number of construction workers say they’re worried about the level of sanitation at job sites.

Several workers have called or emailed Global News and AM 980 CKNW Radio, saying there is little or no hand sanitizer or hot water and soap for handwashing at sites with dozens of workers up to camps with thousands.

READ MORE: Child-care providers raise coronavirus concerns in letter to B.C. premier

Andrew Mercier, president of BC Building Trades, which represents a number of construction unions, agreed.

“Construction work is heavy work. It’s sweaty work. It’s hard enough to touch your face. There aren’t enough bathrooms; there are porta-potties,” Mercier told CKNW Mornings host Simi Sara.

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“The conditions are unsanitary. We’re running out of hand sanitizer. We need not to be alarmist, but we need to recognize that the spread of this virus is a serious issue and we’re focused on risk mitigation.”

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Mercier said it’s impossible to shut down all projects right now. For example, sites working on critical civil infrastructure will need to stay open, he said.

READ MORE: B.C. declares state of emergency in response to coronavirus pandemic

Not to mention, the construction industry has to stay afloat to help rebuild the economy after the pandemic is over.

“I have no doubt in my mind [that] when we get past this situation …. construction will be part of the stimulus that gets this province back on its feet,” he said.

“But we need to get there, and we need to get there with healthy workers.”

He asked anyone who feels a worksite has unsafe or unsanitary conditions to call BC Building Trades and report it — even if you aren’t a member.

“Union, non-union, it doesn’t matter. We’re through the looking glass.”

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Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said she doesn’t intend to close non-essential businesses, but the employers are responsible for making the workplace as safe as possible and following rules on social distancing and hygiene.

As for what that looks like in an indoor work environment, such as an office, she suggests limiting the number of people in the office, increasing the distance between anyone who’s there, and making sure the space is heavily cleaned every day.

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