- Exposure and diseases
- Calling a Professional
- Building-Related Illnesses
By Chris Gardner, President, Independent Contractors and Businesses Association
Across the country, provincial governments are closing down major pieces of our economy, protecting the public from the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But one industry that has been tapped to continue is construction.
On Thursday, the BC Government declared construction an essential service, deeming our industry a “daily service essential to preserving life, health, public safety and basic societal functioning.” This means construction, carried out according to new health and safety directives, can continue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There has been much debate within the industry about whether construction sites should be shut down or be allowed to continue to operate. This is an important discussion to have, and, ultimately every company owner and their employees will need to make this decision for themselves. There is no playbook for navigating the health and economic crisis that we face because we have never been through anything approaching the scale of what COVID-19 is unleashing.
Decisions to shut down entire sectors of our economy are unprecedented – the measures being taken are ones that were hardly imaginable just a few short weeks ago. Never before has government moved with such purpose and deliberation in an effort to stop the engine of our prosperity and direct millions to simply “stay home.”
The social and economic upheaval we face is agonizing and heart-wrenching for individuals, families and communities. The impact will be harsh and in so many ways, unforgiving. As governments at all levels grapple with the public health consequences of COVID-19, they also need to turn their attention to the disruption and dislocation that is about to be thrust upon our entire population.
We cannot afford missteps at this critical time. We need clear thinking, bold action and new ways of doing business to see us through this crisis in a way that preserves people and communities and ensures that we can continue to deliver on the promise and opportunity that has defined British Columbia for generations.
With the essential service designation comes significant responsibility for everyone in construction —to ourselves, to each other, and to our communities. On numerous occasions, B.C. Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has been crystal clear – construction can continue and can be undertaken safely as long as employers and employees take all appropriate steps to ensure that safe work practices are in place and followed on construction work sites.
We must continue to build, repair and maintain the critical infrastructure our communities rely on to sustain themselves – ports, pipelines, roads, hospitals, schools and homes. And we must do this within the safety directives mandated by the Provincial Health Officer.
I am extremely proud of the leadership and commitment to safety demonstrated by everyone in construction and by how quickly construction professionals, both on and off the job site, have responded with new policies and procedures to ensure everyone goes home safe at the end of every shift. The Provincial Health Officer has set out her orders on how to keep workers safe from COVID-19, with help from WorkSafeBC and the BC Construction Safety Alliance. These measures are not optional – they are the rules of doing business in the new reality we face today.
Many construction companies have gone beyond those measures and put even more stringent safety protocols in place. This is one of those unique moments in history that requires all of us to act together, share ideas, information, and best practices, and most importantly, stick to the health and safety directives every single hour of every single day.
In this time of great crisis, I know that today’s construction leaders will demonstrate the same spirit, resilience and resolve as our industry’s predecessors who defined and built this great province. Let’s do everything we can to help our families, colleagues and communities meet the challenges before us, to follow the directives of the Provincial Health Officer, and to keep our teams working and safe.
Kerry and Jordan discuss two of ICBA’s hundreds of online courses (and a bit about the HBO documentary McMillion$):
WHMIS (https://icba.simplesignup.ca/en/1141/index.php…) – The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), Canada’s national hazard communication standard, has incorporated the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) – an internationally recognized standard for hazard classification and communication. Our new WHMIS 2015 online course also contains WHMIS 1988 information. $34.95
COVID-19 Action Planning (https://www.bistrainer.com/…/coronavirus-covid-19-action-pl…) – COVID-19: Action Plan for the Workplace course is designed to help employers and managers prepare and respond to exposure and illness caused by COVID-19. Organizational plans that take into account policies and procedures, human resources matters, and supply and production issues can help companies and employees prepare for the health pandemic. Being prepared, yet flexible enough to adapt to an ever-changing situation, supports an entire organization. FREE UNTIL APRIL 30.
Stay safe, everyone!
The following op-ed, written by ICBA President Chris Gardner, first appeared in the Journal of Commerce on March 23, 2020.
The John Horgan NDP seems locked in a time warp – they just can’t get enough of that ’90s British Columbia, especially when it comes to paying off their friends in the building trades unions.
First, it was the unfair, confusing, and costly Community Benefits Agreements (building trades union-only hiring) that prevents 85% of B.C.’s construction workers from working on taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects like the Pattullo Bridge replacement. Those agreements are already sending projects over budget by tens of millions of dollars.
Now they are looking at another silly, outdated plan – straight from the 1990s playbook – reinstating compulsory trades.
A trade is compulsory in construction when a person is not allowed to legally work on a jobsite unless they are a registered journeyperson or are enrolled in a government-approved apprenticeship program.
It has been nearly 20 years since B.C. had “compulsory trades,” as the industry long ago recognized the multiple pathways a worker takes to acquire skills to become a journeyperson or to pursue other career aspirations.
Ask government officials what will be accomplished by imposing compulsory trades and you mostly get a blank stare. Ask what data there is to demonstrate compulsory trades will improve quality, safety or training, and a look of panic usually sets in.
Supporters of this misguided policy, generally the traditional building trades unions, claim compulsory trades results in more people completing an apprenticeship. It doesn’t – otherwise union completion rates would be sky-high. But they’re not: completion rates across union and non-union apprentices typically averages between 35 and 40 percent.
Further, the building trades model has been in freefall for a generation. Of the approximately 250,000 men and women who work in construction in B.C. today, only about 15% are represented by these traditional unions that are increasingly finding themselves out-of-step with a modern world where workers are seeking choice and flexibility and a stronger voice in how work is performed.
And the unions are hardly apprenticing anyone, anymore – the Industry Training Authority reports the non-union sector sponsors 82% of BC’s apprentices.
If the provincial government was serious about improving apprenticeship completion rates, they wouldn’t bring in compulsory trades. Instead, they would improve the information about apprenticeship training and address the shortage of training spaces and chronic waitlists at public post-secondary institutions where the trades are taught.
Over the last two decades, enabling – rather than stifling – flexible work arrangements has improved productivity in the construction industry, reduced costs, improved innovation and, importantly, addressed today’s construction workers’ desire for more enriched work experiences and the acquisition of broader skill sets.
At ICBA, we recently released the results of our annual wage and benefit survey of construction contractors. The market remains extremely busy, with 90% of contractors surveyed indicating that 2020 would be as busy or busier than 2019 and 64% of our members indicating that the number one challenge facing their business was the shortage of workers.
A 2013 study by the C.D. Howe Institute underscores the other core pitfalls of compulsory trades training. It notes that rather than regulating “entry” into apprenticeship training – as compulsory trades does – governments should focus its oversight activities on quality of work and safety standards. It found that provinces that have imposed tight restrictions on “entry” into the trades were found to have 44 percent fewer workers in the trades than those without a compulsory approach.
At a time when we desperately need more construction workers, the NDP and their building trades union supporters want to cut tens of thousands of people out of the workforce by imposing rules that would make it more difficult to work in construction.
The bottom line is that if improving completion rates is the real public policy objective of the Horgan government, then the focus should be on the real-world training needs of workers in the construction industry.
These needs begin with increasing the number of training spaces at post-secondary institutions; providing additional financial support for students through the tax system; increasing the role and scope of the Youth Train-in-Trades programs in high schools; and, supporting post-secondary institutions and employer efforts to provide more flexibility in training delivery.
Today’s construction workforce wants flexible and relevant training for today’s world of work, and the opportunity to shape their own career pathways aligned with their interests and aspirations. Returning to 1990s-style compulsory trades runs counter to this approach.
Compulsory trades are, in fact, like the building trades union-only hiring policy: an outdated, obsolete relic of an era long gone.
Personal protective equipment and products are urgently needed by front-line staff in B.C.’s continuing care sector, which includes staff working in long-term care homes, assisted living residences and home care. Demand for these goods has skyrocketed at the same time supply chains have been cut, putting the health and safety of our healthcare workers and those they care for at risk.
Do you have any extra of these supplies? If you do, then your contribution can make a life-saving difference. Our friends at BC Care Providers are reaching out to those who can contribute any of the following products:
- Examination gloves (e.g. nitrile gloves)
- N95 masks
- Surgical masks (sometimes called medical procedure masks)
- Hand sanitizer
- Hospital-grade disinfection wipes
All contributions must be unused and unopened. BC Care is not accepting any other items, thanks.
You can drop these items off at one of several convenient locations in the Lower Mainland. The final locations will be posted soon at www.bccare.ca and www.safecarebc.ca. A volunteer will accept your donations and the items will be delivered to care providers across B.C.
Our Jordan Bateman and TheOrca.ca’s Maclean Kay talk about the COVID-19 crisis, and the federal and provincial response to it.
March 18, 2020 – Vancouver, BC – The BC business community has announced the creation of the COVID-19 Cabinet, to address the significant impacts on our economy in these unprecedented times.
The group represents business, labour and employees, and allows for collaboration and quick response to changes in the business environment. It will work with government to share information and advocate on behalf of the BC business community and workers to ensure their voices are heard.
The group will work collectively to share information on the impacts of COVID-19 and will provide a point of contact for government as it creates policies, programs and measures to support business and workers to address the significant economic impacts.
The following organizations are coming together in a coordinated voice and represent a broad spectrum of industries and sectors including:
- Business Council of British Columbia
- Greater Vancouver Board of Trade
- BC Chamber of Commerce
- Independent Contractors and Businesses Association
- Canadian Federation of Independent Business
- Council of Forest Industries
- Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
- Association of Consulting Engineering Companies BC
- Association for Mineral Exploration BC
- BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association
- Urban Development Institute
- BC LNG Alliance
- BC Hotel Association
- BC Trucking Association
- Vancouver Economic Commission
- BC Construction Association
- BC Care Providers Association
- Mining Association of BC
- BC Gaming Industry
- BC Real Estate Association
- Ketchum Communications
- Surrey Board of Trade
- Motion Picture Industry Association
- BC Maritime Employers Association
- BC Tech Association
- BC Salmon Farmers
- The Alliance of Beverage Licensees
- Chartered Professional Accountants of BC
- Construction Labour Relations Association of BC
- Tourism Association of BC
- BC Farmers’ Association
- BC Road Builders & Heavy Construction Association
- BC Economic Development Association
The group will be reaching out to other organizations in the coming days to support BC business, labour and workers to address challenges and ensure economic recovery in the coming weeks and months.
“We are living through a crisis on a scale not seen in generations – it is essential that government and business come together to support individuals, families, and communities. Fast action combined with bold and visionary policy measures are needed to restore confidence and provide reassurance to British Columbians worried about their jobs, their families and their futures.” Chris Gardner, President, Independent Contractors and Businesses Association
“COVID-19 is having major impacts on our health and on our economy,” said Bridgitte Anderson, President and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade. “Collaboration is key to ensuring business and workers are taken care of in these very uncertain and challenging times.”
“Working together, BC business are committed to informing and supporting the actions of governments to protect the health of people and our economy from COVID-19” said Greg D’Avignon, President and CEO of the Business Council of British Columbia. “Now is the time for large-scale government fiscal resources to be applied quickly to bolster the economy, support families, and assist businesses over the next several months. Boldness is needed to defeat this challenge.“
“It is imperative that the business community and government work together to ensure those being impacted receive the support they need. Small Business owners are resilient by nature, but will definitely need support to get through these challenging times.” Laura Jones, Executive Vice President, Canadian Federation of Independent Business
“The health and safety of citizens is priority number one – but there’s a window for businesses here, too. Our long term economic resilience and ultimate recovery will be a function of how governments listen to the timely intelligence coming from the business community today. We thank the federal and provincial governments for leaning in with the business community as this unfolds.” Val Litwin, President and CEO, BC Chamber of Commerce
“We applaud the federal and provincial governments for making the health and safety of Canadians their first priority and welcome the additional support being put in place to help workers, businesses and the broader economy during this period of uncertainty. As BC’s forest sector continues to navigate extremely challenging times, the Council of Forest Industries strongly supports the economic measures announced today and urges additional actions that support enhanced access to capital and operational and business continuity. These measures will, in turn, support forest companies, their employees and families, and communities across the province.” Susan Yurkovich, President and CEO, BC Council of Forest Industries
A new coronavirus is the cause of an outbreak of respiratory infections, now known as COVID-19. The number of cases worldwide is changing quickly. B.C. has confirmed cases of coronavirus; however the risk to Canadians continues to be low. The risk to construction workers is also low, due to general good health of the workforce, working conditions and safety equipment such as work gloves. However, all British Columbians should be aware of the virus and how to prevent its spread.
Recommendations for Employers:
- Keep washing your hands!
- For larger companies, form a COVID-19 response group to keep current on the issue, to ensure preventative measures are being taken, and to address personal or business impacts.
- For worksites and lunch rooms, ensure access to handwash and sanitizer stations
- Encourage workers, especially in lunch rooms, to wash their hands throughly and not share food, plates, utensils, etc.
- For offices and other shared workspaces, step up cleaning routines
- Keep your staff up-to-date on COVID-19 and what your company is doing
- Reduce face-to-face meetings and business travel where possible
- Review (and if so desired, revamp to fit your company’s circumstances and distribute to employees) this memo on guidance for employers
- Review this excellent list of Frequently Asked Questions – which include suggestions on how to handle employees returning from travel or needing to self-quarantine.
- Keep an eye on the BC Centre for Disease Control website for updates: http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/coronavirus-(novel)
WorkSafeBC has a page that is helpful to employers and employees HERE.
Homebound? Try one of our online courses
What is Coronavirus COVID-19?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses found mostly in animals. In humans, they can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV). The new coronavirus has been named COVID-19.
While many of the characteristics of COVID-19 are still unknown, mild to severe illness has been reported for confirmed cases.
Anyone concerned that they may have been exposed to, or are experiencing symptoms of the novel coronavirus, should contact their primary care provider, local public health office, or call 8-1-1.
What are the Symptoms?
The symptoms of COVID-19, are similar to other respiratory illnesses, including the flu and common cold. They include cough, sneezing, fever, sore throat and difficulty breathing.
- your symptoms;
- where you have been travelling or living;
- if you had direct contact with animals (for example, if you visited a live animal market); and
- if you had close contact with a sick person, especially if they had a fever, cough or difficulty breathing.
How is it spread?
How can I avoid it?
- washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
- avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands;
- avoiding close contact with people who are sick;
- coughing or sneezing into your sleeve and not your hands; and
- staying home if you are sick to avoid spreading illness to others.