Construction site health and safety during COVID-19
Find resources, best practices and information to help you create a COVID-19 workplace safety plan to keep your workers safe and healthy, and your construction projects going during COVID-19.
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Employers and workers in Ontario have certain duties and rights under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations. This includes taking steps to prevent the spread of covid 19 in the workplace.
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Constructors and employers have obligations to protect workers from hazards in the workplace, including covid 19. To help prevent outbreaks, we encourage every employer to develop a covid 19 workplace safety plan.
The guide to developing a covid 19 workplace safety plan can help you to:
- understand the risks related to covid 19 transmission in your workplace
- develop control measures to prevent exposures
- identify concrete actions you will take to make your workplace safer
Employers also need to be aware of and follow the restrictions and requirements that apply to their workplace under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to covid 19) Act (described in the Roadmap to Reopen) such as preparing a written safety plan and making it available upon request.
You should also regularly check for requirements applicable to your region, such as:
- municipal by laws
- orders from your local public health unit
This guidance note does not replace the Occupational Health and Safety Act or the Employment Standards Act and their regulations and should not be used as or considered legal advice. Health and safety inspectors and employment standards officers apply the law based on the facts in the workplace.
Use this guidance, and other general and sector-specific resources, to develop and maintain a safety plan specific to your worksite.
Understand the risk
The key risk factors for covid 19 transmission include:
- close proximity: working close to others
- longer exposure: spending more time with potentially infected people
- crowded places: having more people in a space
- closed spaces: indoor spaces with less fresh air (working indoors is riskier than working outdoors)
- forceful exhalation: activities that cause people to breathe more deeply, such as physically demanding work, speaking loudly and singing
Each additional risk factor in the workplace increases the risk of transmission. Not having any of these factors does not mean there is no risk of transmission.
Implement safety measures
Once you understand the risks in your workplace, you must implement measures to control potential exposure to covid 19.
With an infectious disease like covid 19, you will need to implement controls that can help to break the chain of transmission of the virus.
These controls help to protect workers in different ways. For example:
- screening helps to keep people who may be infectious out of the workplace
- good ventilation and wearing masks can help reduce the amount of virus in an indoor space
- maintaining physical distance reduces the chance of being exposed to respiratory droplets of all sizes
- personal protective equipment (PPE) can help protect the wearer from exposure to the virus and may be required when other control measures cannot be consistently maintained
In situations where one or more controls cannot be consistently maintained it is especially important that other controls are in place.
It is possible for covid 19 to be spread by people who do not have any symptoms. Act as if everyone is infected when setting up controls.
Provide information and training
Ensure that everyone follows health and safety policies. Give workers the information and training they need. Trades, subtrades and subcontractors should have procedures in place to follow your health and safety policies.
Ensure all workers know how to keep themselves safe from exposure to covid 19.
Provide clear information and instruction to workers and others. Make sure they know what they need to do to protect themselves and others. Provide clear guidance on policies, procedures and other controls including:
- the sanitization of the work areas
- how workers and contractors report illnesses
- how to ensure physical distancing
- when PPE or source control masking is required
- how work will be scheduled
- screening measures
Some things to consider:
- set up or use your current internal communication systems to provide frequent reminders and updates
- post information for workers and other people (such as at the access points to each project, by the elevator or hoist, close to the lunchroom, office or other common areas).
- share information in all languages spoken by your workers if possible, and provide information in ways that are easy to understand, like graphics
- provide information to your workers about how vaccination can help keep them safe
- share information about social, financial and mental health supports and how to stay healthy at home and while travelling between home and work
- train and re-train on procedures
Control the risk of transmission in the workplace
Controlling the transmission of covid 19 in the workplace involves making changes to the way we do things. Use the hierarchy of controls to help you choose the right control measures for your workplace. Checking to see how your plan is working will help you find the best solutions for your unique situation and adapt to any changes.
Every control measure has strengths and weaknesses, so it is important to combine controls. Each additional control adds a level of protection. For controls that rely on individual behaviours, it is critical that people apply them correctly and consistently.
Some questions that may be helpful when considering control measures include:
- Can this task be completed while maintaining physical distancing?
- Can workers wear a source control mask while performing this work?
- Can this task be conducted at a later, safer time?
- Is there a different procedure that can be used?
Screen for covid 19
By keeping symptomatic workers and other people from entering, you can reduce possible transmission at your workplace.
Know the symptoms to look for and plan for how you will screen everyone who enters the worksite, including actively screening workers. Use the covid 19 screening tool for workplaces or ensure that your screening process includes all the questions from the tool.
Physical distancing (two metres)
As advised by public health officials, physical distancing is important for controlling the spread of covid 19. You may need to reduce the number of people on job sites and in specific areas within the site so everyone can maintain appropriate physical distancing. Constructors and employers should look at how they can adjust their production schedules to limit unnecessary on-site contact and support physical distancing, where possible.
Here are some tips you can use to help ensure physical distancing at your worksite.
Limit the number of people
- reschedule any unnecessary visits to the workplace by supply chain partners, vendors or others who don’t need to be there now
- limit the number of workers on-site at the same time by staggering work schedules, start times, breaks, and lunches
- control site access, including prohibiting entry to any unauthorized person and posting signs indicating a phone number for suppliers and visitors to call for entry
- organize tasks so that only one trade is working in a space at a time (for example, not doing electrical work and plumbing at the same time)
- limit the number of people in the project trailer or lunchrooms at one time
- hold meetings outside or in a large space and if necessary, hold multiple meetings to limit size of groups
Consider movement of people
- plan worksite mobility and transportation to take into account physical distancing, including for hoist operations
- set up one-way staircases and corridors wherever practical to minimize contact between workers
- limit the number of people who use elevators and hoists at one time through markings on the floor and direct the occupants to face the walls of the hoist or elevator rather than each other
- limit the number of people inside a vehicle and/or increase number of trips to allow for physical distancing; increase use of fresh air ventilation in vehicles
Communicate expectations to workers
- encourage physical distancing and make sure everyone knows the capacity limits for the spaces they are using
- conduct work area inspections to verify workers are practicing physical distancing
- communicate to workers that they should notify the supervisor of any concerns about practices or procedures that may affect physical distancing
- use signage to reinforce your policies and control measures
Masks and personal protective equipment
A mask is a type of face covering. It is a piece of equipment that covers the wearer’s nose, mouth and chin. It is fixed to the face with straps, ties or elastic, either behind the head or with ear loops.
For covid 19 protection, masks can be used as workplace control measures in two ways:
- source control: workers and visitors wear a mask to protect those around them
- PPE: workers wear a mask (along with eye protection) to protect themselves
Not all masks or other face coverings are suitable for use for either or both purposes in the workplace.
All constructors and employers should consider using source control masking combined with other control measures as much as possible. Wearing a mask as source control is required by law in many Ontario workplaces. You should be aware of the most current local and provincial requirements that are applicable to construction.
To determine when PPE is needed, you will have to assess all the relevant factors in the workplace. This includes the effectiveness of other controls you already use. Even with other controls in place, there are situations where PPE is needed to comply with your duty under the OHSA to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers.
When workers need to work indoors or outdoors within two metres of an unmasked or improperly masked person without an adequate shielding barrier (for example, plexiglass, partition, wall), they will need to wear PPE for covid 19.
Where PPE for covid 19 is needed in non-health care settings:
- it will likely consist of a surgical or procedure mask (or equal or greater protection) and eye protection (such as face shield or goggles)
- gloves will not usually be needed as they do not provide any more protection than hand washing or using hand sanitizer
Construction workers who wear PPE for protection against workplace hazards besides covid 19 must continue to use that PPE as required.
This could include:
- respirators (such as for wood dust or silica)
- gloves (such as for handling chemicals or protecting hands from cuts)
Learn more about using masks in the workplace including how to select, care for and use them to protect workers from covid 19.
Workplace sanitation and hygiene
covid 19 is spread from person to person through close contact, including at work. While constructors and employers always have an obligation to maintain clean worksites, that obligation is under sharper focus due to covid 19.
- provide access to soap and water
- provide hand cleanser to remove grease, grime and oil and an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that is between 60% and 90% alcohol when providing water is not feasible and in addition to hand washing stations
- clean washroom facilities regularly and provide a safe place for waste disposal
Some additional tips for protecting workers through improved workplace sanitation and hygiene, include:
- do more frequent maintenance of the wash up facilities and ensure adequate amounts of soap, water, cleaners and disinfectant are available in the workplace
- sanitize commonly touched surfaces and equipment (such as hoists, site trailers, door handles)
- clean lunch room and other common room surfaces frequently
- avoid sharing of hand tools, powered equipment and other items. If sharing is necessary, sanitize the tools, equipment and other items between uses
Ventilation and air flow
The risk of covid 19 transmission is higher in more enclosed and crowded spaces. On a construction site this may include trailers, sheds, temporary buildings and any other indoor spaces, finished or unfinished.
The steps you can take to reduce the risk will depend on the worksite. You could:
- keep windows and doors open as much as possible
- use portable ventilation fans or HEPA air cleaners
- continue ventilation and air exchange after regular work hours where feasible
- limit how much time workers are indoors or in enclosed spaces, particularly with other people; alternate indoor and outdoor tasks
- use available outdoor space whenever possible, for example, for meetings, breaks and appropriate work tasks
- consider scheduling tasks in a different order than usual to provide as much fresh air as possible throughout the project
Be aware of other hazards that may be associated with some of these actions, such as temperature extremes or potential for falls and put measures in place to control any new risks.
Manage a potential case of, or suspected exposure to, covid 19 at the workplace
The guide to developing your covid 19 workplace safety plan can help you plan for what you will do if there is a case of covid 19 at your workplace or a suspected exposure to covid 19 (see Question 4 in the guide).
If a worker calls in sick, informs you of symptoms or informs you they had close contact with someone with symptoms, or if anyone shows symptoms in the workplace they should be excluded from the workplace.
Your local public health unit is responsible for identifying close contacts and determining when a workplace outbreak has occurred. You and your workers must follow any direction provided by local public health officials, including self-isolation if required. If you have questions about a case in the workplace or about public health direction, contact your local public health unit.
If a worker tests positive for covid 19, the local public health unit may ask you to provide information such as where and when the worker was present and information about any other worker who may have been exposed. Consider setting up a system to track workers to be able to provide information to the public health units if needed.
You must let workers know if they may have been exposed in the workplace. You should give all workers information about the date and time of the potential exposure and where it took place. Don’t give out any information that might identify the infectious person.
If you are advised that one of your workers has tested positive for covid 19 due to exposure at the workplace, or that a claim has been filed with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), you must give notice in writing within four days to:
- the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development
- the workplace’s joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative
- the worker’s trade union (if applicable)
Additionally, you must report any occupationally acquired illnesses to the WSIB within three days of receiving notification of the illness.
Resources to prevent covid 19 in the workplace:
- guide to developing your covid 19 workplace safety plan and covid 19 workplace safety plan checklist
- resources for the construction sector from the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA)
- guidance on using masks in the workplace
- guidance on self-isolation and return to work
- resources from relevant industry associations and trade unions
General covid 19 resources:
- information on the Ontario Government response to covid 19
- resources from Public Health Ontario
- covid 19 information from the Government of Canada
- resources from international organizations, such as the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC)
Information on provincial covid 19 public health and legal requirements:
- Ontario covid 19 public health measures and advice
- the Ontario government covid 19 website
- find your local public health unit
Supporting posters and worker guidance:
Telehealth Ontario at Toll-free:
Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development - to report illness
WSIB - to report illness
Workplace PPE supplier directory – to assist in finding supplies and equipment