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Province deems construction essential; trade unions call for clarity on safety

On Tuesday March 31, the Manitoba Building Trades and the Construction Labour Relations Association of Manitoba released their own safety measures to protect workers and contractors while on the job. The two trade organization say the province hasn't given clear instructions for trades to do their job safely while dealing with COVID-19. (Joe Byrksa / Winnipeg Free Press files)

On Tuesday March 31, the Manitoba Building Trades and the Construction Labour Relations Association of Manitoba released their own safety measures to protect workers and contractors while on the job. The two trade organization say the province hasn't given clear instructions for trades to do their job safely while dealing with COVID-19. (Joe Byrksa / Winnipeg Free Press files)

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The industrial, commercial, institutional and residential construction sectors are allowed to keep working past April 1. But a pair of trade organizations say the province hasn't given clear instructions for trades to do their job safely while dealing with COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the Manitoba Building Trades and the Construction Labour Relations Association of Manitoba released their own safety measures to protect workers and contractors while on the job, citing a need for clarity and guidance.

Together, the two organizations represent more than10,000 skilled trades and construction workers in the province.

"We have been hearing non-stop from our members and business partners regarding the lack of clear safety protocols as a result of COVID-19," Manitoba Building Trades CEO Sudhir Sandhu said in a release.

"We want to protect our members and the industry from avoidable interruptions; that’s why we took the lead on drafting these measures."

The measures include comprehensive instructions on sanitation, safe tool use, communication strategies and equipment requirements, including wearing N95 or other suitable protective masks while working in close proximity. The organizations say the measures should be posted at all job sites, and are effective indefinitely.

Worksites that don't provide amenities outlined and don't follow applicable protocols are deemed unsafe, and workers can refuse work as guaranteed by the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

Tanya Palson, Manitoba Building Trade's communications manager, says letters were sent last week to both Premier Brian Pallister and Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler, but hasn't received a response. Other provinces, including Ontario and British Columbia, have laid out construction-specific safety protocols.

"Businesses that continue to operate during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic... are expected to follow public health advice and take precautions to protect workers and the community," according to a statement Tuesday from the province.

"Manitoba has developed a centralized website containing guidance to assist (www.gov.mb.ca/covid19)... We are encouraging businesses to contact the province if they are unsure how public health orders will impact them."

Tradespeople across the province have largely been working measures out on their own with respect to the type of work they do, the size of their crews and health practices recommended to the general public.

David Boux of Boux Plastering Inc., says spring is a major season for exterior repairs. He's said he's been keeping at least two metres away from clients while having discussions about estimates; once work begins, job sites will likely have one crew member working at a time.

Roost Custom Builders co-owner Myron Martens said his team has limited the number of people on job sites, is emphasizing proper hygiene and told employees to keep a safe distance from one another. Roost normally has a Monday-morning breakfast meeting with all 10 staff, but they are being conducted digitally now.

Hands On Excavation's Dmitriy Kotelevskiy said his employees are continuing to work, but because they're in isolated machinery, distancing isn't as much of a problem. Four people are working on the company's job sites and have been advised to limit direct conversations; Kotelevskiy said most discussions can be conducted over the phone.

But at larger construction companies, which are represented by Manitoba Building Trades and the Construction Labour Relations Association of Manitoba, those practices are more complicated because there are more trades working at each site and more potential interaction between workers, including tool-sharing and close contact.

The Construction Safety Association of Manitoba sent out its own list of resources last week and can be found at constructionsafety.ca/resources.

 

ben.waldman@freepress.mb.ca

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman
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Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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Updated on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 at 7:01 PM CDT: Adds government statement

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