British Columbia

B.C. construction sites remain open, employers say they can maintain social distancing

Construction sites across the province remain open with employers saying that, despite concerns, they are able to maintain social distancing between workers.

Provincial health officer confirmed construction sites exempt from guidelines on group gatherings

The president of the Vancouver Regional Construction Association says the provincial guidelines prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people don't apply to construction and industrial sites. (Robert Short/CBC)

Many construction sites across British Columbia remain open with employers saying that, despite concerns, they are able to maintain social distancing between workers.

Some cities like Boston have already suspended all construction activities and unions in Quebec have called on their province to do the same.

But the president of the Vancouver Regional Construction Association, Fiona Famulak, says B.C. isn't there yet. 

"We look to our public health officer to provide continued guidance, and our industry is ready to respond if changes occur," Famulak said. 

This week provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed that construction sites are exempt from provincial guidelines prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people.

Famulak says contractors need to be vigilant about keeping the required one- to two-metre distance between workers. 

Fiona Famulak is president of the Vancouver Regional Construction Association which represents construction companies, general and trade contractors, manufacturers and suppliers. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

On Thursday, Henry confirmed that the 50-person prohibition also doesn't apply to industrial sites, meaning large-scale projects such as the Site C dam and LNG Canada.

"These are less risky environments for the most part even though you may have a lot of people there," Henry said. "For most industrial sites this is not a difficult accommodation and this is something employers should pay attention to."

Famulak says it's much easier to keep social distance in large areas.

Famulak says employers will be adopting the province's suggestions for all sites.

For example, they will ensure there is a distance of one to two metres between workers, whether by reducing the number of people on site through staggered shifts or by making sure that workers are not congregating in break rooms.

She says measures such as hand-washing and making sure people don't come to work sick were already in place.

"The health and safety of our workers in the construction industry is the No. 1 priority always, and particularly in these times when we're navigating a pandemic," Famulak said.

Virtual hotline to help construction workers

Meanwhile, the B.C. Construction Association has started a "virtual hotline" for those working in the construction industry to share comments and questions, including trade and general contractors, project owners, tradespeople, manufacturers and suppliers, and other service providers.

The association is also asking the provincial government to defer property and payroll tax payments and review timelines for public sector construction projects to see if it's possible to accelerate projects in K-12 and post-secondary institutions.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

With files from Jesse Johnston

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