Understandably, I’m seeing so many people (both employees and employers alike) worried about the safety of their workplace that has been defined as an essential service and remaining open during this unprecedented coronavirus pandemic.

I thought I’d post a reminder about both the employers’ and employees’ rights and responsibilities.

This is a direct excerpt from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety.

“An employer must:
• Establish and maintain a health and safety committee, or cause workers to select at least one health and safety representative.
• Take every reasonable precaution to ensure the workplace is safe.
• Train employees about any potential hazards and in how to safely use, handle, store and dispose of hazardous substances and how to handle emergencies.
• Make sure workers know how to use and handle the equipment safely and properly.
• Make sure workers use any necessary personal protective equipment.
• Immediately report all critical injuries to the government department responsible for OH&S.
• Appoint a competent supervisor who sets the standards for performance, and who ensures safe working conditions are always observed.

The manager or supervisor must:
• Make sure workers work in compliance with OH&S acts and regulations.
• Make sure that workers use prescribed protective equipment and/or devices.
• Advise workers of potential and actual hazards.
• Provide workers with written instructions as to the measures and procedures to be taken for protection of the worker.
• Take every reasonable precaution in the circumstances for the protection of workers.
Managers and supervisors act on behalf of the employer, and hence have the responsibility to meet the duties of the employer as specified in the Act for the work they (the managers and supervisors) direct.

Employees responsibilities include the following:
• Work in compliance with OH&S acts and regulations.
• Use personal protective equipment and clothing as directed by the employer.
• Report workplace hazards and dangers to the supervisor or employer.
• Work in a safe manner as required by the employer and use the prescribed safety equipment.
• Tell the supervisor or employer about any missing or defective equipment or protective device that may be dangerous.
Employees have the following three basic rights:
• Right to refuse unsafe work.
• Right to participate in the workplace health and safety activities through the Health and Safety Committee (HSC) or as a worker health and safety representative.
• Right to know, or the right to be informed about, actual and potential dangers in the workplace.”

As always, if your business is deemed to be an essential service and is remaining open, the employer (and specifically the supervisor) is required to follow these requirements noted above.

I see a lot of construction companies closing up shop because of this risk, and while there is no doubt a risk, I also strongly believe that IF a company can stay open, they SHOULD. But before you do, there are things you must do to help protect your workers. Remembering the hierarchy of controls will help you mitigate the risks in the following order:

1) Eliminate the hazard: Is it essential that the work is done? Can you avoid doing it? (check the contract before cancelling any work).

2) Substitution: Can you replace the hazard? In this case, I doubt it.

3) Engineering Controls: Can you isolate the people from the hazard. I see many retail outlets installing plexiglass to protect their staff from the public. Temporary barriers can help isolate people from each other. 

4) Administrative Controls: Change the way that people work. Adjust your procedures to allow for physical distancing. Adjust shifts if needed. Require that workers work six feet away from each other. Minimize or modify tasks that need workers to be in close proximity to each other. 

5) Personal Protective Equipment: Remember that this should be considered your last line of defence, but definitely do in addition to all of the above. Provide workers with disposable gloves and N65 masks, proper hand washing stations, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes (for their tools).

Employees…. If you feel that your employer has not adequately controlled the risk, you have every right to refuse unsafe work.

See below flow chart for the process to follow:

If you have any questions concerning this matter, or need assistance with the administration of your construction company, please feel free to reach out.