Ontario Ramps Up COVID-19 Response: 24/7 Work Permitted at Essential Construction Projects

Ontario announced two different measures today, to ramp up the Province’s response to COVID-19, including extended work hours on essential construction projects and increased safety measures.  Both of these are outlined below.

Extended Hours for Essential Healthcare Construction Projects

In an effort to accelerate work on critical construction projects, for health care, to prepare for an expected surge in COVID-19 cases, the Government of Ontario announced, that hours of work for “essential” construction infrastructure, including construction projects critical to the health care sector, will be permitted to extend to 24 hours a day without violating local noise bylaws. Other construction projects may still only operate from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Local noise by-laws have now been temporarily limited from applying to these types of essential construction activities, specifically described as projects “associated with the healthcare sector, including new facilities, expansions, renovations or conversions of spaces that could be repurposed for health care space” retroactive to April 7, 2020. These measures are aimed at providing for expedited construction on health care facilities to ensure proper care for patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms and patients who require critical care. These immediate changes have been enacted under the Ontario Municipal Act (Ontario Regulation 131/20, available here). Locally in Toronto, these changes have been enacted under the City of Toronto Act(Ontario Regulation 130/20, available here).

This will permit those critical projects involving work on new hospital builds, expansions, temporary structures for health care and COVID-19 assessment centres to theoretically continue all day and night, without breaching local noise bylaws. The suspension of noise bylaws is not a direction for any construction project to operate 24/7. Any business or employer choosing to do so must be mindful of their obligations under the Employment Standards Act, 2000, and any applicable collective agreements such that implementing any “round the clock” construction is done in accordance with all such obligations. 

This extension of hours is also, according to the announcement, intended to facilitate construction businesses and employers taking additional steps to ensure reasonable precautions are taken for worker health and safety on these job sites—with more flexibility allowing for social distancing, limiting numbers of workers in a single location at one time, and staggering shifts. It will also, it was stated, permit construction worksites to follow recently-issued guidance for construction projects in Ontario (See Chief Prevention Officer’s guidance issued March 29, 2020 to the construction sector on health and safety related to COVID-19).

Increased Safety Measures and OHS Enforcement Personnel for Essential Workplaces

In addition to emphasizing the need for the construction sector to take reasonable precautions to keep workers safe and healthy, Minister McNaughton announced that further sector-specific guidelines – outlining safety measures to ensure appropriate precautions are taken for workers in essential services – will be made available. This guidance will be posted promptly by our firm once available.

Further, in order to increase the number of OHS inspections of essential workplaces, to make more staff available to assist employers, and to permit receipt of more complaints and concerns of workers at this time by the Ministry‘s 1-877 Call Centre, the Ministry of Labour Training and Skills Development (“MOLTSD”) is adding more inspectors and more capacity to take calls and complaints by:

  • recalling available, recently-retired MOLTSD inspectors to increase the number of available OHS inspectors;
  • redeploying other officers, currently involved in Employment Standards matters, to attend at workplaces and help businesses understand and comply with OHS requirements;
  • doubling the capacity of the health and safety call centre from 25 to 50 phone lines; and
  • deploying up to 30 specialists from health and safety associations to assist in supporting employers and workers in the field with OHS matters.

Together, these measures are expected to ensure critical healthcare-related construction projects not only continue but are accelerated, while steps are being taken to ensure worker safety in business is declared essential in the province.

We will continue to update our clients with information as soon as it becomes available. If you have any questions about this topic, other COVID-19 related questions, or would like assistance with developing and/or reviewing pandemic plans, please do not hesitate to contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer, or refer to the Firm’s COVID-19 website resources.

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