Workplaces still conducting business due to being considered "essential" should brace for more scrutiny by the Ministry of Labour. And on essential construction sites, that scrutiny can occur any time of the night or day, as working hours on these sites have been extended to 24 hours per day.
On April 8, 2020, the provincial government announced its redeployment of 30 employment standards officers ("ESOs") to "help businesses understand and comply with health and safety requirements." ESOs usually deal with alleged contraventions of the Employment Standards Act, 2000 but will now be enforcing the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
As a practical matter, this means closer scrutiny of a reduced number of workplaces overall, so employers should carefully review their current practices to ensure they are taking all reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of their workers. Remember that unhappy workers have a way to express their concern – the capacity of Ontario's Health and Safety Call Centre (1-877-202-0008) is also being doubled from 25 to 50 phone lines to assist those who wish to notify the Ministry of fatalities, critical injuries, work refusals, reprisals and unsafe work practices.
On the construction front, essential projects – hospitals, COVID-19 assessment centres, etc. – can now continue any time of the night or day, with the goal being to accelerate the construction of essential infrastructure to meet the requirements of the pandemic. Local noise bylaws will be temporarily limited to allow for 24-hour construction. The province is encouraging contractors to use this flexibility to stagger shifts and limit the number of workers on sites at one time.
Contractors have been given unprecedented flexibility to build the critical infrastructure we need, but they should expect to be closely scrutinized to ensure the safety of workers who are doing the essential work. In fact, this applies to all essential services – workers continuing to perform work have the right to be protected and the provincial government has just made it easier for them to exercise that right.
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