Ontario Premier Doug Ford has deemed construction sites an “essential workplace” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After putting the construction industry on notice during his Tuesday press conference, Ford said that “shelter is at the top of the list” when it comes to essentials for Ontarians during the coronavirus pandemic.
The premier said with thousands of families waiting to move into new homes, construction cannot be delayed at this time.
But he did advise that leaders in the industry must ensure the safety and well being of workers, and that new guidelines have been put in place with dozens of inspectors now at construction sites to make sure that the appropriate protocols are in place.
The premier also had some strong words of caution if the guidelines are not followed.
“If the industry does not take every step necessary, I will shut them down. This is a public health emergency and public health comes above all else,” Ford said.
“We will not hesitate to shut them down if they don’t act accordingly.”
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The announcement from Ford was received favourably by the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) who said it is “essential to keep the industry working.”
“The health and safety of employees, suppliers and customers is the industry’s top concern,” David Wilkes, president and CEO of BILD, said in a statement. “The industry has taken proactive steps such as reducing staff to a bare minimum, practicing social distancing for inside work, prioritizing outside work where trades are not in close proximity with each other and increasing on-site sanitation and sanitation facilities.”
BILD said it is not feasible to delay the completion of homes that are near closing without it having a significant effect throughout the GTA.
The association also noted that with the housing supply already at crisis levels, stopping construction will create long term implications for housing supply in the future.
“As the premier stated yesterday, Ontario workers have the right to refuse unsafe worksites and should report these conditions to the appropriate authorities. Many BILD members have adopted policies to close down work sites if someone is feeling unwell,” added Wilkes.
However, Phil Gillies the executive director of the Ontario Construction Consortium (OCC) had a different opinion, saying the premier “missed the mark.”
“Ontario Construction Consortium is calling for a shutdown of all truly non-essential construction sites for 14 days. Government missed the mark in designating Industrial, Commercial and Institutional jobs as ‘essential’ — that’s pretty well everything,” Gillies said.
On Monday, Ford called for all non-essential businesses to close by Tuesday, March 24 at 11:59 pm.