Trades workers are walking off the job at some Victoria work sites over a lack of sanitization amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Langford woman Robyn Hacking, a red seal journeyman fire sprinkler fitter, has been advocating for hand washing stations at job sites for years. But she says even now, during an unprecedented pandemic, the stations are nowhere to be found.
“We’ve never had anywhere to wash our hands,” she said. “The reality is when I arrive on site… there have been crews and crews and crews on these job sites for months and they spit everywhere and nothing gets cleaned up. We’re lucky if anybody sweeps.”
|Hand washing stations were brought into a Campbell Construction commercial work site, according to the BC Tradeswomen Society, but only after rising concerns about transmission of the COVID-19 virus. The society is advocating for other sites to comply with WorkSafe BC regulation provide hand washing stations for all employees. (Courtesy of Robyn Hacking)|
Hacking said the job sites, by nature, are conducive to the spreading of germs.
“We all touch the same surfaces, and hand railings and I mean all of the surfaces. We’re all sort of working on top of each other,” she said. “People can use hand sanitizer and what not, but we all touch the same surfaces. Nothing is being done to clean surfaces, hand railings, common areas.”
Hacking said nothing has changed since the COVID-19 virus reached the region.
“It’s been accepted that we work in filthy conditions and so it’s been business as usual,” she said. “It concerns me greatly.”
Erin Flanagan of the BC Tradeswomen Society conducted an informal poll on hand washing facilities with members working at large commercial job sites across the province.
She learned 57 per cent of the 52 respondents still did not have hand washing stations at their job sites, and 35 per cent just got them or were about to get them that week.
Not only is that a health risk during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s an infraction of a WorkSafe BC regulation, which mandates access to portable washrooms and hand washing facilities on sites without plumbing.
“Most construction companies don’t provide paid sick leave of any kind,” Flanagan said in a press release. “So while many industries in town are encouraging employees to work from home or self isolate, it’s business as usual in the construction industry.”
“This means trades workers are working in unsanitary conditions in close quarters with hundreds of other workers where they share tools, ladders, etc.”
On Thursday, Hacking and other members of her crew prioritized their health and left the job site. She predicts other tradespeople will follow suit.
“It’s been very scary. What I’ve seen in the past week is it’s not just my crew, it’s all of the crews,” she said. “It’s a continuous discussion. It’s impinged productivity a great deal because people are concerned.”
Hacking will be able to apply for employment insurance but the future for her, like many others, remains uncertain. Still, she feels she made the right decision to walk away.
“In the construction industry, if you get behind on a project there are major financial penalties … the issue is complicated, I get it. But we need to be looking at the big picture here,” she said.
“Everybody is concerned about this week’s pay and the contractors are concerned about project deadlines and economic pressure but what I think is being lost here, is if this work force gets sick, there will be no progress,” she added. “We need to look after this now and flatten this curve.”
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