Saskatchewan

Sask. construction industry wants projects to continue, with safety precautions, during pandemic

Saskatchewan’s construction industry is hoping projects can continue during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to keep people working and help the province’s economy.

Sites making adjustments to follow provincial rules

The president of the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association wants infrastructure building and maintenance declared an essential service in the province. (Matt Howard/CBC)

Saskatchewan's construction industry is hoping projects can continue during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to keep people working and help the province's economy.

"We hope that so long as the risk remains low and contractors can operate their sites safely, we will continue to see infrastructure projects going on," said Mark Cooper, president and CEO of the Saskatchewan Construction Association.

Saskatchewan's current restrictions on gatherings and the closure of certain businesses do not apply to construction sites, provided workers adhere to the social distancing of two-metres and do not exceed 25 people in a room.

"We are actually encouraging governments and other project owners to proceed with projects now. The labour supply is available, the industry has capacity to absorb work, borrowing costs are low and public restrictions mean that it is easier to control access and safety on job sites," Cooper said.

Cooper said construction jobs are going ahead while following the provincial guidelines by maintaining proper hygiene, wearing personal protective equipment and not sharing tools.

"The first concern of all of our members is the health, safety and wellbeing of their families and teams," Cooper said.

He said some companies are limiting people on-site, making workers take separated transportation to and from the site and separating accommodations for those staying away from home.

Cooper said some measures taken by the government to this point are welcome, including waiving the requirement for layoff notices.

He said the government could do more to help companies survive including:

  • Tax, loan and mortgage holidays.
  • Income supports for keeping workers employed.
  • Accelerating payments on projects and all payments to all vendors.
  • Ensuring that credit can be extended to any company facing cashflow restrictions.

"It sounds like a lot, but the truth is we need these businesses to not only survive, but emerge stronger on the other side. That's how our society will manage its full recovery," Cooper said.

Infrastructure work an 'essential service,' says industry association

Saskatchewan has an abbreviated outdoor construction season due to harsh winters. Further restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic could make that season even shorter.

"Moving forward we're hoping that the construction season can go ahead business as usual with some adjustments made for distancing restrictions and ramped up sanitation efforts," said Shantel Lipp, president of the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association.

Lipp said one issue contractors will have to deal with is the availability of running water and soap in the field.

"We have recommended regular hand washing and cleaning of shared surfaces before using."

Lipp said the province's restrictions around gathering have halted some crushing operations and that means they may not meet their contract completion deadlines.

"If the province is forced to implement more extreme measures it will mean jobs lost, not just for the heavy construction sector but also sectors we support like manufacturing, engineering, trucking and other supply related industries."

Lipp said a major shutdown of construction would amount to a "huge downturn in the provincial economy."

"We need to ensure projects go out to market in a timely fashion and that they're awarded quickly. We can't defer construction and maintenance of our major networks."

Lipp said the provincial government should designate construction and maintenance of major infrastructure like roads, rail, bridges and flood mitigation an essential service.

"We are staying in constant contact with the government and our stakeholders as the situation is extremely fluid," Lipp said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for more than 14 years. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

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