January 2021

Welcome to COCA's monthly Newsletter. Unless noted otherwise, all articles written by COCA President, Ian Cunningham.

What’s Essential Construction? 

At the Ontario government’s news conference on Tuesday, January 12, 2021, Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, announced that all non-essential construction would be shut down effective Thursday, January 14, 2021. She did not elaborate on what constitutes non-essential or essential construction but several hours after the presser, the government published a slide deck with full details. 

We know from previous experience that an announcement by the Premier or one of his Ministers or a government news release or slide deck are not the law. The slide deck carried the following warning, “The information contained in this document is intended to communicate a summary of information about measures proposed to come into effect in Ontario or in areas of Ontario between Tuesday, January 12, 2021, and Thursday, January 14, 2021. The material is not legal advice and does not purport to be or to provide an interpretation of the law. In the event of any conflict or difference between this summary information and any applicable legislation or regulation, the legislation or regulation prevails.” 
We anticipate that sometime later today (Wednesday, January 13, 2021) an amended emergency order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act that reflects the essential construction list in the slide deck will be posted and come into force tomorrow. The emergency order is the law and we have every reason to believe that it will have the same level of specificity as the information in the slide deck.   

Here’s the list: 
  • Construction projects and services associated with the healthcare sector and long-term care, including new facilities, expansions, renovations and conversion of spaces that could be repurposed for health care space.  
  • Construction projects and services required to ensure safe and reliable operations of, or to provide new capacity in, provincial infrastructure, including transit, transportation, energy, mining and justice sectors beyond the day-to-day maintenance.  
  • Construction projects and services that support the operations of, and provide new capacity in schools, colleges, universities, municipal infrastructure and child care centres within the meaning of the Child Care and Early Years Act, 2014. 
  • Construction projects under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program  
  • Construction projects and services that support the operations of Broadband internet and cellular technologies and services.  
  • Critical industrial construction activities required for: a) the maintenance and operations of petrochemical plants and refineries,  b) significant industrial petrochemical projects where preliminary work has already commenced, c) industrial construction and modifications to existing industrial structures limited solely to work necessary for the production, maintenance, and/or enhancement of Personal Protective Equipment, medical devices (such as ventilators), and other identified products directly related to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • Construction projects that are due to be completed before July 2021  and that would provide additional capacity in the production, processing, manufacturing or distribution of food, beverages or agricultural products. 
  • Construction projects that were commenced before January 12, 2021 and that would provide additional capacity for businesses that provide logistical support, distribution services, warehousing, storage or shipping and delivery services, or provide additional capacity in the operation and delivery of Information Technology (IT) services or telecommunications services. 
  • Residential construction projects where a) a footing permit has been granted for single-family, semi-detached and townhomes , b) the project is a condominium, mixed-use or other residential building, or  c) the project involve renovations to residential properties and construction work was started before January 12, 2021
  • Construction to prepare a site for an institutional, commercial, industrial or residential development, including any necessary excavation, grading, roads or utilities infrastructure. 
  • Construction and maintenance activities necessary to temporarily close construction sites that have paused or are not active and to ensure ongoing public safety. 
  • Below-grade multi-unit residential construction projects, such as apartments and condominiums. The Ontario government also provided that businesses must follow public health measures and should review the workplace safety guidelines. 
  • Construction on any project intended to provide either,  
  • affordable housing, or  
  • shelter or supports for vulnerable persons,  
  • If the project is being funded in whole or in part by, or is being undertaken by, any of the following:  

A. the Crown in right of Canada or in right of Ontario,  
B. an agency of the Crown in right of Canada or in right of Ontario,  
C. a municipality,  
D. a service manager as defined in the Housing Services Act, 2011, or  
E. a registered charity and not for profit within the meaning of the Income Tax Act  (Canada).   

Construction WSIB COVID Claims Remain Low 

According to the WSIB’s website as updated on January 8, 2021, 10,318 claims for workplace acquired COVID19 have been approved, 1,782 not approved and 809 claims are pending a decision. The greatest number of claims originated from Nursing & Residential Care (4,539), Agriculture (1,550), Hospitals (1,411) and Schedule 2 Employers (921). The experience in the construction industry remains very good. Here are the results by WSIB classification:  

G1: Building construction – 12 allowed, 6 not allowed, <5 pending  
G2: Infrastructure construction - 5 allowed, 0 not allowed, <5 pending 
G3: Foundation, structure and building exterior construction – 16 allowed, <5 not allowed, <5 pending 
G4: Building equipment construction – 19 allowed, 11 not allowed, <5 pending  
G5: Specialty trades construction - 8 allowed, <5 not allowed, <5 pending 
When you think that approximately 516,000 workers are at work on construction sites during the pandemic, this performance is very good.   

Eight Construction Workers Die in Seven Separate Incidents in December 2020 

In his monthly report to the Provincial Labour-Management Health and Safety Committee, Brian Barron, the Senior Manager of the Construction Health and Safety Program in the Occupational Health and Safety Branch of the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development gave the following details about the 8 fatalities that occurred in the construction industry in the month of December 2020: 
  • On December 2, 2020, a man in his 60s, working at a commercial construction project in Toronto slipped while on a scissor lift. The worker was tied off and slipped hitting his head and succumbed to his injuries. 
  • On December 8, 2020, a 69-year-old man working on a bridge project in Georgian Bay fell into an on-site cement/grout batch plant mixer and succumbed to his injuries 
  • On December 11, 2020, two men aged 21 and 26 were fatally injured when the floor they were pouring with concrete collapsed at a multi-level residential project in London. 
  • On December 14, 2020, a 49-year-old male was fatally injured when the scaffold he was on was struck by a piece of concrete that fell while being hoisted at a multi-level residential project in Toronto. 
  • On December 15, 2020, a 54-year-old male was fatally injured when he was crushed by a precast concrete panel that was being unloaded at an institutional project in Oshawa 
  • On December 17, 2020, a 31-year-old male was fatally injured when hit by a vehicle while directing traffic at a multi-level residential project in Scarborough. 
  • On December 26, 2020, a 24-year-old male was fatally injured when he was struck by a falling beam during demolition at a commercial project in Windsor. 
I don’t pretend to have any answers but here are my random thoughts: 
  • This has to be the worst month for fatalities in the history of the Ministry 
  • The year will end with approximately 23 construction fatalities 
  • There is little commonality among the seven incidents which suggests multiple holes in our health and safety system. Perhaps the only commonality is lack of or poor hazard analysis 
  • The scaffold accident of Christmas Eve 2009 (a single event) that killed four workers sparked an exhaustive 12-month review of the Province’s Occupational Health and Safety System by Tony Dean and his Expert Panel. The review led to the very significant Bill 160 amendments to the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act which became law on June 1, 2011. Included in the amendments were the creation of the Prevention Office and the position of the Chief Prevention Officer, the establishment of standards for training and the development of a five-year strategy 
  • A colleague on the Provincial Labour-Management Health and Safety Committee suggested to me that if these dead workers had been policemen or firemen, there would be a Royal Commission 
  • Response to the eight fatalities at seven different construction sites has been remarkably tepid simply calling for toolbox talks, a reset, basically more of the same 
  • I suggested in an article in the DCN that giving the CPO more authority and independence should be considered 
  • Perhaps the report on the province’s Occupational Health and Safety System done several years ago by John O’Grady of Prism Economics should be made public and revisited 
  • Clearly, we need better incident data and root cause analysis to guide our thinking about what should be done. The Ministry and the WSIB must begin to collect better incident data to guide prevention activities 
  • Once we have robust data, we should benchmark against the best-performing jurisdictions in the world with the goal of getting into that club 
  • In terms of health and safety performance, the construction industry is stuck in a range of about 14 to 25 deaths every year and 280 to 300 critical injuries every year and can’t seem to get better. Are we continuing to do the same things and expecting a different outcome? 
  • Are employers satisfied that for the hundreds of millions of dollars they invest in the health and safety system through their WSIB premiums they get 14- 25 deaths and 280 – 300 critical injuries or do they expect better? 
  • This level of health and safety performance doesn’t make our industry any more attractive to young people considering careers in the construction trades, or their parents  
  •  None of this is intended to take away from all the great work and the hard work that’s being done by so many including those in the Prevention Office, the IHSA, the WSIB and the safety officers in construction companies 

Ontarians Growing Less Satisfied With Government Pandemic Measures 

Polls make for interesting water cooler conversation if were still allowed to gather around the water cooler at work.  So pretend you’re at the water cooler with your work colleagues. Here are some interesting results from a recent Leger North American Tracker survey published on January 4, 2021: 
  • 14% of Ontario respondents said they were very satisfied with the measures put in place to fight the COVID19 pandemic by the provincial government; 43% said they were somewhat satisfied; total satisfied = 14 + 43 = 57% 
  • The Ontario government’s satisfaction level drifted between 75% and 85% until mid-October when things began to slide downwards 
  • In the January 4 survey, Quebecers showed a 72% total satisfaction level, Manitobans 66%, Saskatchewanians 58%, British Columbians 69% and Albertans 27%  
  • Manitobans support increased from 44% to 66% since the previous poll in mid-December; Quebec increased 4%, Ontario down 5%, Saskatchewan up 1%, Alberta down 3% and BC down 6%  
The full Leger poll is available at the following link: 


COCA is the voice of our membership at Queen's Park.

We want to hear from you. All questions, ideas and comments are more than welcome.

Council of Ontario Construction Associations
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Ian Cunningham x224
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Martin Benson x222
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