A construction site in Langley’s Willoughby neighbourhood August 23, 2020. (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)

How a push for better COVID-19 protection helped the B.C. construction industry keep going

Building Trades Council executive director Andrew Mercier maintains the measures prevented a shutdown

This Labour Day, Monday, Sept. 7, executive director of the BC Building Trades Council Andrew Mercier will be working. It may be an annual holiday that celebrates workers, but he has work to do.

“It’s not a day I’ll be taking off,” Mercier remarked.

For Mercier, a Langley resident who took over as the new executive director just a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the day will give him a chance to catch up on some of the non-COVID-19 matters that have had to be put on the back burner during the current pandemic.

It has been a hectic time for the council, which has been pressing for improved protective measures for construction workers during the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Construction group calls for more government oversight of building sites

One very bad example of the situation that Mercier likes to cite concerns a work site, early on in the pandemic, where the sanitation was something less than an afterthought.

“A hand-washing station was a two-by-four duct-taped to a hose, and a bar of soap,” Mercier recalled.

He credits WorkSafe BC for taking the matter seriously, assigning hundreds of inspectors to enforce standards at all sites in the province to make sure construction workers were safe on the job.

“They (WorkSafe) reacted with lightning speed,” Mercier commented.

As a result, he believes, the B.C. construction industry as a whole managed to avoid the widespread shutdowns seen in Ontario and Quebec.

“You had workers staying home, you had projects shutting down [in those provinces],” Mercier told the Langley Advance Times.

“The difference is policy,” he said.

Without the quick response, “we would have had an industry shutdown,” Mercier added. “It’s a testament to the people at WorkSafe BC.”

Langley City is expecting 2020 construction will be similar or slightly higher than 2019.

Last year, construction value topped $101 million. So far this year, the City has recorded $85 million in construction and is projecting at least $100 million for all of 2020.

This projection may be higher by year end, the City cautioned, depending on the number of new building permits applications that come in.

Langley Township is also reporting a modest increase in construction value for 2020.

Total value of Building Permits issued to the end of June 2020 in the Township : $466,575,165 up from $441,650,812 for the same period last year

At big sites, such as the LNG Canada and Site C Dam construction projects, where workers live together in camps, crews were screened before traveling to the camps.

When some at Site C showed symptoms after arriving, a trailer was set aside for isolation.

Some sites did close down altogether, like the Kemano tunneling project, where there was no way to run tunnel-boring machines without people being in close proximity to each other.

READ ALSO: New rules issued for B.C. construction projects, work camps for COVID-19

Other industries in B.C. have also benefited from the attention to coronavirus safety, with WorkSafe applying lessons learned from the construction sector, Mercier added.

So has the non-union construction sector, which is responsible for most of the residential projects in Langley and other B.C. communities.

Mercier said when it comes to safety, it doesn’t matter whether a worker is under a collective agreement.

“I don’t care if you’re union or non-union, call us [if you have a safety concern],” Mercier said.

READ ALSO: B.C. NDP changing WorkSafeBC regulations to respond to COVID-19

His message to workers on Labour Day is one of gratitude.

“I just want to thank the working people at Langley, the people who do the hard work, and keep the lights on, and grocery stockers,” Mercier commented.

“They’re the real heroes.”

BC Building Trades Council represents 25 local unions belonging to 13 international unions. There are approximately 35,000 unionized construction workers in B.C.



dan.ferguson@langleyadvancetimes.com

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