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Supporting Health & Safety on Construction Sites

by Jeff Christy & Peter Armstrong | May 28, 2020

Although Canada’s COVID-19 case numbers appear to be on the decline, it’s no surprise that health and safety precautions continue to be recommended or enforced. Construction projects previously deemed non-essential are starting up again, but with strict guidelines in place to help protect workers’ health. While this return is good news for our economy, it can understandably spark questions for owners, contract teams and their employees.

It is important for everyone to maintain a sense of kindness and consideration while navigating new guidance and best practices for construction operations. When it comes to a global pandemic, the health and safety of everyone on a work site is of prime importance. To ensure projects can keep moving forward safely, communication and transparency between owners and contractors needs to be stronger than ever.

Active construction sites (those which were considered essential) have already taken precautions to help control the spread of COVID-19. Owners can apply many of these same approaches to sites reactivating now to support the physical and mental elements of workers’ health and safety.

1. Maintaining Physical Distancing

Physical distancing has proven to be difficult, as we aren’t naturally attuned to keeping a 6-foot diameter in all group situations. On construction sites, this can be even more problematic as tasks often require two people, working in confined spaces or similarly challenging situations.

Owners should ensure they are aware of all physical distancing guidance available to support the safety needs of their contracting teams. The Province of Ontario, for example, has issued a number of documents and guidelines that all contractors must implement and adhere to on construction sites. The use of social media can also be a helpful way to follow and stay current with the latest updates. Owners should discuss these guidelines with their contractor teams. They can also consider including an acknowledgement form for contractors as part of future bid packages.

To date, some of the best practices that have been applied to address physical distancing include:

  • limiting the number of people onsite at once;
  • issuing disclosure forms to each person entering the site;
  • administering temperature checks upon arrival for work; and
  • contacting suppliers to determine safer or alternate ways to use equipment.

2. Increasing Onsite Hygiene

It can be challenging to maintain ideal sanitary conditions on some construction sites, however owners should ask their contractors about the added measures they are implementing to increase health and safety.

Some of the most effective onsite solutions include making sure that:

  • personal protective equipment is worn while in close proximity to others (i.e. face masks);
  • tools are sanitized between each use;
  • restrooms and common areas are sanitized regularly; and
  • additional handwashing stations are made available.

As in any public space, the cleanliness of a site can help to significantly decrease risks to workers. Compliance with changing protocols can be difficult for contractors to manage. Owners can help by staying informed and sharing updates with their contract teams.

3. Shiftwork Considerations

Shiftwork is a great option for some projects, as it makes it much easier to comply with onsite physical distancing directives. Take, for example, the fit-up of a multi-level office building. Under normal circumstances, shiftwork would be implemented to help reduce disruption to tenants and employees. In this case, however, even though many offices remain empty due to work-from-home guidance, shift work might still be required to ensure workers can maintain proper distance when working in small or confined spaces.

From a mental health standpoint, shiftwork can also help put workers at ease. When combined with increased site sanitation, this approach can be highly effective and might even speed productivity. However, shiftwork is not always possible and should be considered on a project-by-project basis to avoid potential cost overruns.

As an owner, ensuring that contractors are taking the appropriate measures to abide by government and labour board directives, such as physical distancing onsite and improving access to wash stations, is an important step to support health and safety on your project site. Strengthening your relationship with contracting teams and taking a “family” approach to site safety is another way to provide an added layer of care. Considering both the mental and physical health of front-line workers onsite enables owners to build trust with contractors. It also allows them both to convey a united front so workers return to work confident that their health and safety is a priority on job sites.