The Cornerstone housing project under construction at the end of Main Street in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. Community Services Minister John Streicker said he will consult with the Yukon Contractors Association after concerns were raised in the legislature about COVID-19 isolation procedures for Outside workers at the site. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

The Cornerstone housing project under construction at the end of Main Street in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. Community Services Minister John Streicker said he will consult with the Yukon Contractors Association after concerns were raised in the legislature about COVID-19 isolation procedures for Outside workers at the site. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Concerns raised about alternate self-isolation plans for construction

Minister Streicker said going forward, official safety plans should be shared across a worksite

Community Services Minister John Streicker said he will consult with the Yukon Contractors Association after concerns were raised in the legislature about COVID-19 safety concerns at a construction project on Main Street.

NDP leader Kate White brought forward concerns during question period on Nov. 19 after she was approached by a local worker supervising electrical work on the site.

The site in question is being run by Johnston Builders Limited, an Alberta-based company with a local office. The company submitted an “alternate self-isolation plan” to the Yukon government in early October.

The alternate self-isolation plans, which must be approved by the Chief Medical Officer of Health in addition to the Department of Community Services, allow Outside workers to work on sites if the employer can propose a plan that won’t result in a risk of virus transmission.

But Rob Babcock, the electrical supervisor who works for Benoit Electric, said he had concerns about the approved alternate plan.

Babcock said next week carpenters from Manitoba were expected to begin working on site. Rather than self-isolating in a hotel, Babcock was informed on Nov. 5 that the Outside workers would begin construction work on the same site when they arrived.

In the safety plan he was provided a copy of, all workers under the alternate plan would be required to wear an identifying armband, use a separate lunchroom and washroom and work in separate areas with “interaction between the crews will be kept to a minimum.”

“Who’s cleaning all the surfaces? Who’s dictating this? Who’s checking to make sure these guys are even doing what they’re supposed to be doing?” he said.

Babcock said he was uncomfortable working on the same site as Manitoba workers prior to completing isolation, and crew members with vulnerable family felt the same way.

“I don’t feel that it’s fair to me or the guys I work with that we should have to compromise on this,” he said.

Reached on Nov. 19, James Hackney, Johnston Builders Limited president and CEO, said that information was out of date and “safety for everyone on site is number one.”

Hackney said in light of recent case numbers and the announced shutdown of borders the current plan for arriving workers is to fully self-isolate off-site, regardless of the previously approved alternate self-isolation plan.

“This is a very fluid situation,” he said. “We do have an approved alternative self-isolation plan but with the news yesterday, I don’t even know if it’s valid. We can’t proceed with anything unless everybody’s good with it.”

White said she was relieved for local workers that a solution had been reached, but said more oversight is required from the government in order to avoid putting local workers in an uncomfortable position.

“I am glad that this company reevaluated and that they’re looking at what’s happening right now and they’re going to do something different. But it should never have come to the floor of the Legislative Assembly,” she said.

“The government is ultimately responsible. We can’t just give blanket approvals because they’re for economic development. There’s too much at risk right now,” she said.

Streicker said there has been around 400 applications for alternate self-isolation plans, but not all have been approved. He said all Outside workers must isolate “but they can do so on the job site if they prove and can carry that out in such a way as to keep it safe and separate. That is what was applied for.”

“I want to know if the minister, or the minister’s department, prior to approving alternative isolation plans, consults with the people who will be affected by them,” White said during committee in the House.

Babcock said he was unable to obtain the official alternative self-isolation plan approved by the government. He said he reached out to the government and was told they needed to consult legal before releasing the plan.

In the House on Nov. 18 Streicker said a requirement for contractors to share the plan with the sub-trades on a job site isn’t a strict requirement right now. He said he is determining if the government can release that information to inquiries and would reach out to the Yukon Contractors Association to talk in general about alternative self-isolation plans.

“The general (contractor) should be sharing it,” he said. “I will work in the future to ensure that it is a stipulation and a requirement.”

Streicker said that all employees entering the Yukon, including those under alternate isolation, must sign their declarations for self-isolation rules. He added that employees with concerns can contact either covid19enforcement@gov.yk.ca or 1-877-374-0425 in order to register a complaint.

Workers Compensation and Civil Emergency Measures Act enforcement officers are both available to check sites, he said.

“Please, let one of us know and we will go and check to make sure that things are being done safely, because safety is our biggest priority during this pandemic,” he said.

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com

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