Construction Site Sanitation Improves During Pandemic

July 3, 2020

Vancouver Island Building Trades Council Applauds Arrival Of Handwashing Stations

VICTORIA – COVID-19 restrictions have been difficult for everyone, but other than health, there is something positive coming out of recent events.

Jim Noon is President of the Vancouver Island Building Trades Council

Sanitation at construction sites, long a concern for workers, has vastly improved, notes Jim Noon, President of the Vancouver Island Building Trades Council.

Government-mandated handwashing stations at construction sites is something Noon says is much appreciated by the approximately 6,000 unionized construction workers on the Island.

“Over the years we haven’t had proper handwashing stations at construction sites, which hasn’t been enforced because it is in WorkSafe regulations,” Noon observes. “The requirements were outlined, but they haven’t been regulated until COVID-19.

“Since COVID-19 has come, the government has deemed construction essential services, and the government has demanded that construction sites are equipped with proper hand sanitizer, and that handwashing sites are properly maintained.”

Noon notes that until the crisis, many sites haven’t had running water to enable workers to wash their hands on a frequent basis.

“Since COVID-19, WorkSafe BC has been reaching out and going to job sites to make sure the sites are compliant,” he adds. “What they’ve done is start a new initiative called the ‘Inspectional Initiative’, which is WorkSafe BC addressing sanitation on construction sites.

A newly installed handwashing sink at a construction site

It’s the first step to make sure that our people working on construction sites have sanitation facilities available.”

Noon says it’s unfortunate that it has taken a pandemic and a virus like COVID-19 to bring the issue to the forefront, as it should have been dealt with years ago.

“I want to make sure that the sanitation and hand washing standards will continue as we move forward, not just for COVID-19,” he states. “Our concern is that a lot of our members pick up influenzas and flu bugs regularly due to not having proper protection. We have lost members from work due to being off sick because of not having hand washing stations installed.

“We inform our members that they have the right to refuse to work if the site doesn’t provide proper hand washing and sanitation on site. They can now call in an anonymous number through WorkSafe BC to report any violations.”

Since the creation of WorkSafe BC’s inspectional initiative, they have done over 1,000 inspections of construction sites in order to ensure compliance with the PHO orders on social distancing and sanitation.

Noon explains that having hot water at the hand washing stations is a better way to wash hands, adding “I know our members will use it, knowing they won’t be pouring cold water on their hands, especially on a cold day.

“Our members have commented about how nice it is to have proper handwashing stations with soap and being able to properly wash their hands, and to have hand cleaner with spray if there isn’t proper running water. The reaction we have received from our members has been very good and they’re excited that this solution has happened.”

Installation of handwashing stations comes in various forms, with some companies renting handwashing stations – until high demand meant there were no more to rent out.

“Our contractors have actually installed them using various laundry tubs with hot water, and created their own within the job site,” he says. “It’s been our contractors within the plumbing trade that have come to help getting these installed.”

Noon also notes that members are observing construction protocols instilled by BC Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, and following those guidelines closely.

Noon states that due to construction being deemed an essential service, employment rates have only declined less than 15 per cent, largely due to required distancing on job sites.

“There’s still lots of work coming up in the construction sector, so it should be busy throughout 2020,” he says. “We’ve done really well on Vancouver Island flattening the curve on COVID-19, so hopefully, if we continue to follow the guidelines set out by Dr. Henry, we can keep the numbers low. The first step to that is to make sure we have proper handwashing stations.”

www.vi-bctc.org

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