COVID-19 SAFETY ON CONSTRUCTION SITES
The Provincial Health Officer’s ban on gatherings of over 50 people now extends to construction sites.
The week of March 16, 2020, when the ban was announced, the President and CEO of the Urban Development Institute issued a statement saying that, based on information from a senior Provincial Government official, the 50-person limit does not apply to construction sites and that construction companies could continue regular site operations.
On Sunday, March 22, 2020, the Provincial Government released a new guidance to construction sites operating during COVID-19, where it clarified that, although the prohibition under the Public Health Act of gatherings in excess of 50 people does not apply to construction sites as a whole, it does apply to each workspace.
Health officials do not specify what constitutes one workspace, by square footage or otherwise, or how far apart each workspace has to be. However, employers should take a cautious approach to minimize the risks of COVID-19 transmission and illness to themselves and their workers.
The Provincial Health Officer has directed employers to take the following measures and ensure their workers are in compliance:
- where possible, ensure workers maintain a distance of two metres from each other;
- post signage limiting the number of occupants in elevators to four people at a time;
- reduce in-person meetings and other gatherings and, if necessary, hold them outside or in open spaces;
- increase the number of handwashing stations and post signage identifying their locations;
- maintain a list of employees currently working on sites, updating the list daily;
- clean all common areas and surfaces, such as washrooms, offices, tables, light switches and door handles, at the end of each day; and
- ensure that any worker with symptoms, such as sore throat, fever, sneezing or coughing, self-isolate at home for 14 days.
The BC Construction Safety Alliance has published a safe work practice guide which is a useful resource for employers to follow when discussing COVID-19 safety with their workers on a construction site.
Sites must continue to conform to WorkSafeBC practices and current COVID-19 prevention protocols. For example, section 4.85 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation requires that employers provide a sufficient number of washrooms and handwashing facilities. These facilities must be maintained in proper working order, kept clean and sanitary, and stocked with supplies necessary for their use. Workers can appeal to WorkSafeBC and report to BC Building Trades if they are working at a site that has unsafe or unsanitary conditions.
The Provincial Health Officer said that some construction projects are essential and should remain operating under the guidelines, such as critical civil infrastructure and rental and low-income housing. To date, construction work outside appears to be an area of low risk.
The BC Construction Association has started a virtual hotline for those working in the construction industry, including trade and general contractors, project owners, manufacturers and suppliers, to share observations, questions and requests for guidance from the construction industry. Employers should reassess their work environment on a daily basis and keep current with the latest information posted on the Province’s COVID-19 website.
Should you have any questions about your specific circumstances, please do not hesitate to contact any of our Construction group lawyers.