COVID-19: Construction worker calls for job sites to be shut down

COVID-19: Construction worker calls for job sites to be shut down

(Construction workers working in unison on scaffolding, on a apartment and commerical building site underconstruction along Whyte Avenue in Edmonton on Thursday, March 19, 2020.)

Concerns over COVID-19 has an Edmonton electrician asking the province to shut down job sites with more than 50 people but three construction association says that’s not necessary.

Chris Lacroix, an electrical foreman with 25 years in the construction business, along with about 20 other workers on a downtown area project, walked off the job on Tuesday.

“If you (could) have seen the looks on the faces of my guys — absolute fear and worry,” he said Thursday. “I stuck my neck out and asked them if they wanted to go home and they all said yes unanimously. So we left.”

In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, Alberta issued a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people at events such as weddings, funerals, and conferences.

Lacroix said the province should expand this to construction sites, which can have hundreds of people.

“We’re not all in the exact same spot all at once but we intermingle a lot,” he said. “(We use) the same four or five bathrooms, the same two or three stairwells and entrances, and egress for the building. Everyone, not only on my crew, but everyone’s just starting to get more and more on edge.”

Lacroix added his company has done a lot to support workers after they walked out by supplying gloves and masks and porta potties exclusively for his crew. However, he said he doubted current best practices are enough to keep workers safe.

Trevor Doucette, chair of the board directors for Edmonton Construction Association, said he doesn’t think it is necessary to shut work sites down.

“There’s probably some clarity required on behalf of the premier’s office or the governing authority,” he said. “I think there is some confusion. People think an organized event covers 50 people at a job site or an office building. I don’t believe it pertains to job sites.”

Alberta Construction Association executive director Ken Gibson said companies are doing their best to address the issue, including staggering lunches and putting in hand washing stations.

“Contractors have endless amounts of ingenuity,” he said. “There’s already a very strong safety culture around hazard assessment and mitigation that long predates anything with COVID-19. People are not usually working in terribly close proximity to a very specific task. People on site are equipped with personal protective equipment. Virtually all of them will be wearing gloves. Many of them will be for specific tasks at specific times be outfitted with masks.”

Gibson said companies are working together to create a best practices plan to ensure worker safety and are willing to share that information with each other.

Alberta Construction Safety Association CEO Dan MacLennan said companies are putting in pandemic responses at job sites and following recommendations outlined by Alberta Health Services to ensure worker safety.

“I’m hopeful that people are all doing pandemic planning around this and they have all plans in place that the workers are aware of and support,” he said. “If not, I hope there are people who are working to correct that by voicing it to the employer. In the end, anyone in Alberta has the right without repercussions to refuse work that’s dangerous.”


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