Best practices for working on-site during the COVID-19 pandemic

Erik Bornstein
March 26, 2020

The outbreak of COVID-19 has, first and foremost, been a personal tragedy for too many. At TOOLBX, we want to open this post by acknowledging this, and by sending our thoughts and best wishes to everyone affected.

It has also brought a change to billions of people's daily way of life - including how we, as members of the construction industry, are doing our jobs.

This week in Ontario, it was announced that the construction industry, along with businesses that support the industry, have been deemed an essential service. As a result, construction work on essential projects has continued throughout the province.

While the situation is changing daily, an increased focus on health and safety is required to keep essential job-sites open. Below are some tips and best practices (thanks to RESCON for putting the list together) that employers should put in place to help keep on-site workers safe during the COVID-19 situation.

Best practices for working on-site

  • Personal hygiene: Everyone can take individual steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Personal hygiene tips include:
  1. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  2. Cough and sneeze into your elbow or a tissue and wash your hands afterwards
  3. Avoid commonly touched areas including handrails, public transit poles or ensure you clean your hands after
  4. Open doors and touch elevator buttons with gloves, the back of your hand, or other body part or activate the wheelchair accessibility button with the back of your hand, elbow or knee if possible
  5. Wash your clothes as soon as you get home
  6. Notify your supervisor immediately if you are sick and contact public health.
  • Illness reporting: The symptoms of COVID-19 are shared with many other illnesses including the cold and flus. At this time, it is recommended that any worker who is experiencing any symptoms should be sent home. In addition, employers should advise all workers experiencing symptoms to complete the self assessment on the Ontario COVID website and follow instruction there, or call telehealth (1-866-797-0000), your local public health unit or your family physician. Public Health is the leading authority for all issues related to COVID-19 and only they can provide detailed instructions to employees and employers. PLEASE NOTE additional resources, policies, and procedures are being developed to provide additional support in this area.
  • Ministry of Labour Training and Skills Development requirements: As announced on March 16th, the MOL is focused on enhancing protections of workers by expanding protected leaves and improving access to EI benefits. In addition, employers must report occupation illnesses including COVID-19 to:
  1. to the Ministry (in writing) within four (4) days
  2. to the joint health and safety representative
  3. to a trade union (if applicable)
  • Communicate: Communication is key, and a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities will be key. Everyone will need to ensure health and safety policies are updated and posted for all employees to see. Using industry resources including those produced by the IHSA will improve on site understanding.
  • Policies: All employees need to have COVID-19 policies that are posted and communicated with to all employees and contractors/trades. This includes how the site will operate including but not limited to the sanitization of sites, how employees and contractors report illnesses, how to ensure social distancing, and how work will be scheduled.
  • Social distancing: As outlined in several government announcements, social distancing is required to control the spread of COVID-19. In order to ensure social distancing on site, employers should consider the following:
  1. Staggered Start times
  2. Staggered breaks
  3. Staggered lunches
  4. Total number of people on-site and where they are assigned to work
  5. Site movement (potential pinch points including hoists and site trailers)
  • On-site sanitation: As outlined in several government documents, on-site sanitation is paramount. All employers have an obligation to increase the sanitization of sites. Areas of focus should include:
  1. Access to soap and water (ways to properly sanitize hands)
  2. Washroom facilities
  3. Commonly touched surfaces or areas (hoists / site-trailers / door handles/ equipment or residential units)
  4. Limit unnecessary on-site contact between workers and between workers and outside service providers and encourage physical distancing in these areas. (i.e.: remove coffee trucks from site)
  • Adjust on-site and production schedules: In order to keep sites open, production schedules will need to change as impacts of social distancing will impact productivity. Owners and trades will need to collaborate to ensure there is a clear understanding of how production will be impacted. Schedules should consider:
  1. Need for social distancing including staggered work schedules
  2. Sanitation of Sites and workspaces
  3. Reduction of workers (i.e.: in low-rise do not schedule multiple crews in the same unit)
  4. Work-site mobility and transportation including hoist operations
  • Track and monitor your workforce: Due to the latency period of COVID-19, it is important to track when workers report an illness as well as where they have worked. In the case of a positive test, Public Health will ask employers to provide information on where an employee worked, as well as the contact information of anyone who may have been exposed. The better employers track information, the better Public Health can respond.

To learn more about COVID-19, please call Toronto Public Health Hotline at 416-338-7600 or consult the Ontario Ministry of Health and Government of Canada. If you think you have developed symptoms, call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000.