COVID-19: Health and Safety Protocols for Construction Sites

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All industries are facing an ongoing and fluid landscape amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Workplaces are temporarily shutting down, or have moved towards unprecedented work-at-home procedures. However, many construction jobsites remain open throughout Canada and B.C. B.C.’s Health Officer has clarified that the ban on gatherings of more than 50 people does not apply construction jobsites. Nonetheless, while the construction industry continues to operate, doing so is not without change, risk and the need to adapt.

This article will consider the following:

  • What are the health and safety measures that construction sites are obliged to follow?
  • What are the repercussions of noncompliance?
  • Who’s job is it to carry out the health and safety measures?

1. What are the health and safety measures that construction sites are obliged to follow?

The federal and provincial governments’ call for social distancing, means businesses must facilitate flexible and remote work arrangements that adapt to the pandemic. The government has issued further guidelines specific to construction sites, summarized as follows:

Distancing
  1. No more than 50 people in the same space (space is not defined).
  2. Ensure distance of at least two meters between workers (i.e. reduce number of people on site, run staggered shifts).
  3. Avoid large-group meetings and conduct meetings electronically if possible.
  4. Hold necessary site meetings in open spaces or outside.
  5. Limit 4 occupants in any elevator at a time.
Cleaning
  • Clean jobsites daily (e.g. washrooms, shared offices, common tables, desks, light switches and door handles).
  • Where plumbed facilities are impracticable, provide access to portable washroom and hand-washing facilities. Such facilities must be maintained in good working order and stocked with the necessary supplies.
  • Employees & contractors must practice regular handwashing. Jobsites should have readily available and increase the supply of sanitizing hand rub dispensers and handwashing stations.
  • Offer guidance on hygiene through visible posters around the jobsite and in meetings.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Wear PPE at all times as long as it is safe to do so, including safety goggles, masks, and gloves.
  • PPE should not be shared and ensure adequate supplies.
Identification
  • Maintain a list of current employees and update daily.
  • Do not permit anyone to enter a jobsite if they have travelled outside the country within the past 14 days, or who have exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 within the past 14 days.
  • Identify and direct anyone who does become ill to self-quarantine and contact local health authorities.
  • Excuse employees for sickness without requiring a doctor’s note.
Communication
  • Have clear preventive measure in place and communicate those measures to help ensure compliance.

Developers, contractors and construction managers should keep abreast of the Province’s health and safety guidelines found at www.gov.bc.ca/COVID19.  The guidelines may require adjustment of the contract time and certain milestones to ensure work can progress in accordance with health & safety measures.  Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Henry, has made it clear that if businesses are not compliant with the orders in response to COVID-19, they must bring themselves within compliance or shutdown immediately.  Developers, contractors and construction managers may choose to accommodate certain cost overruns and delays to achieve compliance as compliance will likely outweigh the risk of being shutdown altogether.

2. What are the repercussions of noncompliance?

B.C.’s declaration of a Public Health Emergency enables Dr. Henry to issue verbal orders and legally enforce them. Under the BC Public Health Act, individuals and corporations failing to comply with orders of the provincial health officer, are subject to accompanying penalties including fines or potential shutdown altogether.

3. Who’s job is it to carry out the health and safety measures?

The task of ensuring that proper health and safety measures are implemented may be delegated to a specific party in the construction contract chain.  When the project operates under a head contract, the obligation will usually fall to the general contractor.  In a CM “at risk” scenario, the obligation will likely fall to the CM.  In other CM scenarios, the obligation may be split and/or shared between CM and Owner.

As always, there is no substitute for reading the actual contract and being familiar with the health & safety provisions.  These provisions are key as jobsites continue to operate in the new landscape of COVID-19.