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.