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Advice for contractorConstruction Sites Reopening
As you likely know, some provinces are working on reopening construction and renovation sites in the upcoming weeks, after being closed for a certain period of time due to the pandemic.
While many questions have arisen concerning the nature of the work that will be authorized, the different provincial governments have made a point of answering questions and providing ample details on the hygiene measures that will need to be rigorously applied on construction sites.
Ontario: As of May 6th, 2020, the Ontario government decided to expand essential construction to allow below-grade, multi-unit residential construction projects like apartments and condominiums to begin and existing above-grade projects to continue. Further, they released detailed health and safety guidelines for those working in the field of construction.
Ontario has recently made things easier for builders to work on essential projects–a category that includes both critical healthcare construction and new residential projects. Further, they recently removed industrial and commercial construction projects from the list of essential services. Ontario contractors working on new hospital buildings and expansions, virus assessment centers and other essential work can now schedule around-the-clock shifts, according to an announcement from Premier Doug Ford.
Also, the province is temporarily limiting local noise bylaws as well. This extension of hours offers flexibility to ensure workers have enough room for social distancing. Measures taken to prevent the spread of the virus should be done in compliance with requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and associated regulations and public health directives issued by the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
For more information and resources, consult the Ontario Government website.
Alberta: On March 27, 2020, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health issued CMOH order 07-2020: 2020 COVID-19 response which outlines new restrictions and prohibitions to protect Albertans and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Effective since March 27, 2020, “the gathering of persons in excess of 15 people in a group, in an outdoor location, is prohibited.” Furthermore, “any [person] gathering in an outdoor location must maintain a minimum of 2 metres distance from one another.”
On the same day, the Government of Alberta outlined a list of essential businesses and services which can continue to operate and provide services. Regarding the construction industry, the list includes:
Construction projects and services associated with the healthcare sector, including new facilities, expansions, renovations and conversion of spaces that could be repurposed for health care space;
Construction projects and services required to ensure safe and reliable operations of critical provincial and municipal infrastructure, including transit, transportation, energy and justice sectors beyond day-to-day maintenance;
Construction work and services, including demolition services, in the industrial, commercial, institutional and residential sectors;
Construction work and services that supports health and safety environmental rehabilitation projects;
Construction projects to repair or render operable/safe any public conveyance, including elevators, escalators and ski lifts;
Construction projects and services that are required to ensure safe and reliable operations of critical energy infrastructure or support supply chains; and
Any other construction project that can safely abide by the CMOH Public Health guidelines/directives.
Quebec: Update: the Legault government has announced that all construction and renovation projects are allowed to resume as of May 11th, 2020. At the outset, let’s start by mentioning that the projects that may resume concern the construction of new rental housing units or new residential buildings whose final date is scheduled for July 31 at the latest.
Previous to this announcement, it was mentioned that the agreement relating to the construction of the buildings must have been agreed upon before March 24. However, the Quebec government then indicated that work starting from April 20 would be accepted for the type of previously cited project.
This includes both construction and renovation work, as well as surveying and building inspection work. Besides, the resumption of work targets companies that are part of the supply chain and working in the residential sector. Note that construction work may or may not concern the work covered by Law R-20 (Law on labour relations, vocational training and workforce management in the construction industry).
Obviously, the reopening of certain construction sites will be accompanied by mandatory compliance with several hygiene and protection rules, which will be essential for controlling the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The following rules and recommendations have been determined by the CNESST (the occupational health and safety organization in Quebec), but equivalent organizations in other Canadian provinces have presented similar instructions.
NOTE: the following advice is intended for construction worksites but most of it is also applicable for smaller projects such as renovations.
Washrooms must be present on construction sites and those with 25 or more workers must be equipped with flush toilets and sinks;
All places reserved for hygiene must be adequately maintained (cleaning must be carried out in the middle and at the end of each shift);
Soap, or at least an alcoholic solution, must be made available to employees;
A hand dryer, hand paper or paper towels should be provided to employees, in addition to garbage cans (ideally contactless).
Other measures must be put in place, including:
Signs indicating the water is not drinkable;
Promoting handwashing regularly for a minimum of 20 seconds;
Integration of cleaning units on-site if necessary.
Also, several recommendations govern hand washing, aiming to establish that it is compulsory at the entrance and exit of each site, in addition to:
Before and after each meal;
Before and after each break;
After using the washroom.
Note that any employer who mobilizes a minimum of 10 workers over 7 days or more must provide them with a space reserved for meals. To guarantee the safe use of the premises:
The tables must be cleaned before and after each meal, in addition to being covered with a tablecloth or easily washable protection
Appliances used for meals (including the refrigerator and microwave) must be cleaned every shift, as well as the chairs
A distance of 2 meters must be maintained between workers during meals
It is forbidden to store equipment, tools or clothing inside the dining room
A space must be guaranteed between the work clothes hung in the trailer
Regarding the use of tools, it’s recommended to avoid lending them between employees and to clean and disinfect them after each shift.
While several individuals have upheld wearing gloves and masks, the CNESST doesn't recommend wearing protective clothing for workers in the construction industry. Rather, it emphasizes the need to focus on regular and frequent cleaning of the hands in addition to avoiding touching the face as much as possible.
Do you need more information about the cleaning techniques to follow? Here are two resources that may interest you:
As the measures mentioned above are mandatory, it’s essential to know that the CNESST will take appropriate measures to ensure their compliance. The same goes for other organizations responsible for ensuring worker safety on construction and renovation sites, such as the WSIB in Ontario and the HSC (Alberta).
In this regard, it should be noted that a lack of rigour in monitoring hygiene rules will give rise to the issuance of one or more notices of correction to the employer by a CNESST inspector. The employer must make the requested corrections, failing of which will cause the workplace to be closed until it meets all criteria set by the organization.
Remember that, under section 51 of the Act respecting occupational health and safety, every employer is required to apply all measures to ensure the health and safety of employees. In the same vein, bear in mind that the recently adopted Quarantine Law obliges anyone returning from abroad to isolate themselves for 14 days. Of course, this includes those working in the field of construction. Anyone who deviates from this directive is liable for imprisonment or a fine.
Regarding the recommendations issued by the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec, know that they are comparable to those issued by the CNESST. However, it emphasizes cleaning and disinfecting objects handled frequently.
Few will dispute that the current COVID-19 pandemic is an anxiety-provoking situation, which can cause both stress and depression. Far from being abnormal, these feelings are completely legitimate and can be a good reason to ask for help if you need it. So do not hesitate to call on one of these resources:
Info-Social psychosocial telephone consultation service: 811
The Healthy Building Program: 1-800-807-2433
Telehealth Ontario: 1-866-797-0000
Mental health helpline: 1-877-303-2642
Even though in some places, it is currently possible to carry out renovation projects, some contractors may not feel comfortable starting the work immediately. This is completely normal under these circumstances.
However, nothing prevents you from using this waiting period to organize the preparation phase of your future projects. More specifically, we are referring to the possibility of sending quotes remotely to customers who wish to do business with you when the situation has returned to normal.
As a contractor, you already know that it’s better to meet a client in person to present a quote. As this is currently impossible, you can still ask your customers to provide you with certain useful information concerning their project, including:
the objectives of the renovation project
the types of materials used
the planned budget
a house plan or photos
a video if necessary
Remember that it’s essential to encourage the rules relating to social distancing as well as to avoid unnecessary contact. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of the new technological tools available including Facebook Messenger, Houseparty, Skype and WhatsApp to communicate remotely and collect all the information useful for planning your next renovation projects
Do you need advice on how to present quotes remotely? Check out our article Renovation contractor: 3 tips to present quotes remotely.
Last modified 2023-11-07
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