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Coronavirus: Ontario construction groups plead with government to shut them down

Some Toronto construction workers worried about being on the job
WATCH ABOVE: Well construction continues in Ontario some workers are worried about contracting COVID-19 and taking it home to their families. Tom Hayes reports.

The Ontario Construction Consortium (OCC) is asking the Ford government to reconsider listing the industry as an essential business in wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The OCC issued a released Tuesday urging the provincial government to “suspend work on construction sites across Ontario for 14 days to protect the safety of workers and employers amid the COVID-19 crisis.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: All non-essential workplaces ordered to close in Ontario

The executive director of the OCC, Phil Gillies said the announcement by Premier Doug Ford to shut down non-essential businesses confused the construction industry and has left workers feeling unprotected.

“It makes no sense that you can’t have your neighbour over for a cup of coffee yet construction sites are expected to continue operations and they can have hundreds of employees working in close proximity to each other,” said Gillies.

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“This is contrary to the best advice of public health officials to maintain social distancing.”

The government issued a list of 74 essential services and businesses that would be allowed to stay open during the pandemic.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Toronto mayor declares state of emergency in wake of COVID-19 pandemic

Gillies said the unions for carpenters and painters are also calling for the same shut down.

“As Premier Ford announced [yesterday], the construction workers of this province should not be expected to work on job sites where the basic safety requirements for COVID-19 are not being met,” said Tony Iannuzzi, the executive secretary treasurer of the carpenters’ union.

“Those minimum standards simply do not exist on most of our job sites.”

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Meanwhile, several people have taken to social media to post incidents of unsanitary and unsafe conditions on several worksites.

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Ford said he spoke with leaders in the construction industry Tuesday morning to “ensure the well-being of workers.”

But said thousands of families are waiting across the province to move into new homes and “when it comes to the necessities of life, shelter is at the top of the list and we cannot take lightly a decision that could put shelter for thousands of people at risk.

Ford said he put the industry on “notice” and that the chief prevention officer sent out new guidelines for construction sites and there are dozens of labour inspectors at large job sites to “ensure appropriate protocols are in place.”

“These inspectors will not hesitate to shut sites down,” Ford said.

“Let me be clear, if the industry does not take every step necessary to look after their workers, I will shut them down because this is first and foremost a public health emergency.”

READ MORE: ‘We need to hear from you’: Doug Ford appeals to businesses to make medical supplies

With construction sites still being asked to operate, the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) released a “best practice guide” for employees.

“Safety has and always will be the industry’s top priority,” said Richard Lyall, president of RESCON in a released Tuesday. “Site safety is the builders’ responsibility and they must work with sub-trades employers to ensure all on-site workers and work sites are safe.”

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The guide includes seven safety recommendations created by health and safety officials in the construction industry.

1. Maintain good personal hygiene (construction or not)
2. On-site Sanitation
3. Practise physical distancing
4. Communicate policies
5. Protect your family and roommates — workers should wash clothing.
6. Report illness
7. Track sick workers

As of Tuesday morning, the province reported 573 active coronavirus cases, seven deaths and eight resolved.

What may not seem essential to downtown Toronto or urban areas may be essential for rural Ontario and the same goes the other way around