Construction advocates urge industry to stay vigilant until the ‘finish line’ of COVID-19

Journal of Commerce | Russell Hixson | January 8, 2021

s B.C. officials introduce new health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on large industrial jobsites in the north, construction and labour advocates are encouraging the industry to stay the course.

Late last month, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s public health officer, ordered five industrial jobsites to reduce their workforces.

The projects include the Site C dam project near Fort St. John, the LNG Canada Project natural gas liquefaction and export facility in Kitimat, the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline being built from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, a tunnel being twinned near Kitimat for Rio Tinto’s aluminum smelter and the Trans Mountain Pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby.

According to Henry’s order, the measures are needed due to the increasing risk of hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and deaths in the Northern Health Authority region. As of Jan. 7, there were 426 active cases in that region of B.C.

According to Northern Health, there are several outbreaks at these sites: two at Coastal GasLink sites and one at an LNG Canada Project site near Kitimat.

People are getting fed up. They want to get together, they want normal,

Mike McKenna, BC Construction Safety Alliance

At Trans Mountain Pipeline jobsites, inspectors found widespread non-compliance of COVID-19 measures, prompting them to ask the project to do a safety stand down so workers and contractors can be educated about the virus and its risks.

For Mike McKenna, executive director of the BC Construction Safety Alliance, the message has remained the same throughout the entire pandemic.

“It is comply or goodbye,” he said, urging the construction industry to not give into frustration and stay the course to the finish line.

“People are getting fed up. They want to get together, they want normal, they can see the finish line but it is a long way off,” he said, noting that for the most part the B.C. industry has done a good job of complying with the rules and minimizing infections on jobsites.

“We have been so fortunate to have been deemed essential. When it comes to camps, everyone wants to charge forward and get back to normal, but they have opportunities to really control things. I know it is tiresome and pedantic, but the message is the same: We are in this for the long haul and the vaccine is on the horizon but likely still months away from being widely available.”

He emphasized the construction industry should finish the pandemic strong so it can be a shining example of what the sector can accomplish.

The Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) also urged the industry to continue doing what needs to be done to work safely.

“Taking steps to limit the number of workers is certainly better than shutting projects down all together,” said Ryan Bruce, CLAC’s manager of government relations in B.C. “It would be our hope that we continue to learn from experience and come up with new and enhanced protocols aimed at ensuring the health and safety of all workers. We fully intend to work with the provincial health officer, project owners, contractors and membership to help reduce transmission and keep our members working safely.”   

Bruce explained the pandemic has had the industry on a steep learning curve from day one.

“The more we learn the better equipped we have become to develop protocols based on science, logic and experience with the goal of limiting the spread,” said Bruce. “Those same principles should apply to all industries including industrial work camps.” 

Bruce added that education and continued efforts to increase awareness are critical in developing and maintaining a culture of safety on any project site. 

“We are all in this together and must remain vigilant in our work as we continue the fight against COVID-19,” said Bruce.