EDUCATION: Industry lauded for response to pandemic
By Grant Cameron / RESCON
Ontario’s construction industry has been a leader for the province since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and deserves congratulations.
That was one of the messages delivered by Ron Kelusky, chief prevention officer and assistant deputy minister at the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD), during a webinar in July sponsored by RESCON, the Construction and Design Alliance of Ontario and the Construction Employers Coalition.
Kelusky, who guided Ontario as it dealt with the COVID-19 crisis, was one of three presenters at the virtual event. The others were Jacob Korenblum, head of policy for the Ontario Digital Service, and Michael Sherrard, founding partner at Sherrard Kuzz employment and labour lawyers.
Kelusky gave an overview of the ministry’s response to the pandemic and how it worked with construction and other industries to keep workers safe.
He also updated the audience on an extension to the Working at Heights (WAH) program, online health and safety training, and provided an overview of fatality statistics for construction and other industries.
Kelusky noted that Ontario was quick to respond to the pandemic and the number of COVID outbreaks in construction was low which is testament to the industry.
He outlined some of the actions the government has taken to deal with the situation in collaboration with its partners in the construction sector to maintain healthy and safe workplaces in spite of COVID-19.
He noted that the government worked closely, with the construction sector to ensure that workplaces have the information they need to keep workers safe. As a result, he said, the essential sector was able to remain open while preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
With many parts of the construction sector deemed essential, he said that construction was one of the first sectors in Ontario to produce sector-specific guidance to prevent spread of the virus.
He said the ministry worked with Ontario’s health and safety associations to provide Ontario workplaces with more than 170 sector-specific guidance resources.
The ministry web page with the information has been viewed more than 800,000 times since March.
Kelusky said that in June, Ontario released a general guide for workplaces to help them develop safety plans to protect workers, customers and clients during COVID-19.
He also said additional COVID-19 support has been provided for workplaces through the Stop the Spread hotline for Ontario’s essential workplaces list and MLTSD’s health and safety contact centre. Specifically for the construction sector, he said the MLTSD and the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) worked together to help workplace parties understand the requirements of the OHSA and construction regulations as they relate to protecting workers against spread of COVID-19.
The IHSA visited construction projects to provide helpful resources to workplace parties and, as of the date of the webinar, had done 512 in-person and 1,246 phone consultations related to the initiative.
On the WAH training, he said that on March 27 a one-year extension was granted to workers whose training expired or will expire between Feb. 28 and Aug. 31. The extension will ensure more than 120,000 workers whose training was due to expire can continue to work when possible and that construction can move ahead without interruption.
Kelusky also noted that the Ontario government is investing $3 million to provide free online health and safety training for the first time. The virtual courses will make it easier for job seekers and workers to get essential qualifications, while practicing physical distancing and preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Up to 100,000 job seekers can now take free online workplace health and safety training through Employment Ontario. Ten courses are offered.
As for fatality statistics in construction, there were eight in the first six months of this year, compared to five during the same period in 2019 and 13 in the same period in 2018.
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