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Ontario union raises safety concerns for construction workers amid COVID-19

After construction was deemed an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic, workers and labour unions are calling for increased inspections to ensure workers are kept safe.
After construction was deemed an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic, workers and labour unions are calling for increased inspections to ensure workers are kept safe. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

After construction was deemed an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic, workers and labour unions are calling for increased inspections to ensure workers are kept safe.

Earlier this week, a representative of LiUNA Ontario Provincial District Council, sent a letter to the Minister of Labour to outline issues of inspections, proper guidelines, and adequate sanitation.

The union and its 11 affiliates represent over 100,000 workers throughout the province of Ontario.

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In the letter, the union called for more active, in person, enforcement to protect workers and ensure conditions meet the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The union outlined the need for increased sanitation of equipment and commonly used areas.

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The letter then called on the Ministry to make written guidelines and requirements for employers to follow when dealing with COVID-19 that “at the very least” includes all Health Canada and Public Health dIrections for safe practices.

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In an interview with Global News Minster of Labour, Training and Skills Development, Monte McNaughton said the Ministry was working daily to increase inspections with 169 happening last week.

“My message this week is clear to those employers out there who aren’t acting in the best interests of their employees and have those construction workers on those sites that the Ministry of Labour will shut you down.”

Minster McNaughton went on to say that he believes employers who aren’t acting in the best interest of their employees are the minority and that most are trying to do the right thing.

McNaughton listed several steps that employers can do to keep works safe like staggering breaks to avoid large gatherings, holding meetings outside, and having hand sanitizer and running water on site.

“These things are pretty easy to do, but it’s just critical that this happens.”

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Two weeks ago, the Ontario Legislature enacted legislation ensuring that those who have to stay home in self-isolate or quarantine can’t be fired.

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Minister McNaughton said any workers with concerns could call his office team at 877-202-0008.

As part of his press conference Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford addressed construction worker’s fears telling those that feel unsafe to leave that site and that the government would have their back.

READ MORE: Trudeau unveils $82B in aid for families, business amid coronavirus uncertainty

To help Canadians during the pandemic the federal government pledged up to $82-billion, with $27-billion of that directly supporting Canadian workers and businesses.

Andrew Pariser of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) said with COVID-19, they looked at enhancing safety practices, policies, and measures.

On Tuesday, they released a “best practice guide” for employers to ensure sites stay safe.

The guide from RESCON includes seven recommendations:
1. Maintain good personal hygiene (construction or not)
2. On-site sanitation
3. Practice physical distancing
4. Communicate policies
5. Protect your family and roommates — workers should wash clothing.
6. Report illness
7. Track sick workers

“It looks at the existing policies on-site, and what that calls for is, every day, every employer is asked and should identify hazards. It’s obviously COVID-19 is a new hazard, and when you find a new hazard, you either want to eliminate it or address it,” Pariser said.

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–With Files from Global News’ Ryan Rocca

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