An Ontario construction group is renewing calls for a shutdown of sites across the province, one day after the provincial government announced “updated guidance” for construction employers in a bid to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Ontario Construction Consortium (OCC) said it’s “impossible to maintain proper social distancing on sites.”
The group is calling for non-essential sites to be closed for two weeks “until the situation can be improved for the health and safety of construction workers.”
“It makes no sense to ban gatherings of 5 or more people in most circumstances, but still have hundreds of workers reporting to construction job sites,” OCC executive director Phil Gillies said in a statement.
The OCC, which is a think tank, says it is advocates on behalf of most workers.
The statement sent out Monday was in response to updated guidelines the province issued on Sunday to employers in a bid to limit the spread of COVID-19 on sites.
The recommendations include staggering shifts, restricting site numbers, better on-site sanitation and communicating health practices.
“The health and safety of construction workers is a top priority for our government,” Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said in a statement.
“With the COVID-19 situation changing day by day, we are working to ensure that workers have the tools they need to help keep job sites safe.”
The Ford government has ordered the closure of non-essential workplaces in the province, but deemed most construction sites essential.
Premier Doug Ford has previously said some projects, like the completion of homes and work on hospitals, are necessary.
Ford said he put the construction industry “on notice” last week, after concerns were raised by groups and workers about unsanitary conditions amid the pandemic, and added that any worker who feels unsafe should leave their site.
Ford said inspectors are issuing notices as required. He said on Wednesday that there were 125 inspectors in Toronto alone.
But the OCC claims the Ministry of Labour “does not have the resources to police the thousands of sites across the province.”
“But they are not always happening on the sites and are often impossible to monitor or enforce.”
Bradley Metlin, McNaughton’s press secretary, told Global News that the guidance given to the construction sector was “with positive feedback from both labour and employer groups.”
Metlin said inspectors responded to 268 “construction-related events” since March 23, including 122 on-site visits.
They issued 67 orders, and on Friday shut down a GTA site for poor sanitation, Metlin said.
“The premier has been clear that every option is on the table, and our government is prepared to take further action as required,” Metlin added.
Premier Ford has previously said he would not hesitate to revise the list of businesses deemed essential by the province if he is given new recommendations by Ontario’s chief medical officer.
Ford said he has talked to construction workers and unions, both of whom want projects to continue.
In an interview with Global News last Wednesday, a spokesperson for labour union LiUNA confirmed that was the case within their organization.
Meanwhile, the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) responded to the OCC in a statement.
“With the new standards released by Labour Minister Monte McNaughton, the premier and the Ministry of Labour have raised the bar to ensure that construction sites are safe and that the industry provides adequate resources for sanitation. The vast majority of sites will comply with this new ministry-mandated standard,” RESCON president Richard Lyall said.
“Premier Ford is right — individual construction sites that aren’t meeting the provisions of the new standard need to get their act together or they should be shut down.”
Lyall said if a worker doesn’t fell safe, they can leave the construction site.
“As it always has, the Occupational Health and Safety Act allows workers to refuse unsafe work. Nothing has changed,” he said.