coronavirus construction

Construction sites are still operating in Toronto and it's not clear why

"Toronto" is often basically synonymous with "construction." 

Our residents are regularly complaining about long-running construction projects in their neighbourhoods and we've been known to have more construction cranes than anywhere else in the continent.

With some phases and types of construction affected by winter weather, spring to fall is prime construction time for the city, and sometimes it feels like it never stops.

Not even in the face of a global pandemic.

Even though construction projects have largely been halted in places like Boston, are soon to be in New York City, and are carrying on with serious restrictions in cities like Vancover under these extenuating circumstances, most companies in Toronto working on municipal, transit and private construction projects are continuing work as usual while the rest of the city practices social distancing.

Residents are understandably concerned, as construction sites often have large numbers of people working in close quarters at once (and  gatherings over 50 people have been forbidden), and they aren't known to be the most sanitary of workplaces.

Some tradespeople have recently posted graphic photos and videos showing the full extent of this latter point — content that is particularly disturbing given the current mandate for impeccable hygiene in the midst of the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak.

In response to images like the above, Premier Doug Ford has told Toronto construction companies to "get your act together and take care of your frontline construction workers," calling the conditions of some sites "unacceptable."

"If they don't do it, we will do it," Ford added re: implementing higher standards of cleanliness upon construction sites during this time. But, he did not choose to close sites along with all non-essential services on Tuesday.

Construction work and services in industrial, commercial, institutional and residential sectors have been given the pass to keep operating amid the new guidelines of our state of emergency, along with those projects associated with the healthcare sector and those "required to ensure safe and reliable operations of critical provincial infrastructure."

Active City construction projects, such as the work at the Ashbridges Bay Water Treatment Plant and work on Metrolinx transit projects, will continue.

John Tory, when pressed on the topic of work site health and safety, told media on Monday that his "number one priority above and beyond anything else is the health of those workers... but at the same time I don't want to see more of them out of work than is necessary."

Since the announcement of the essential and non-essential services, he has also called for the closure of busier construction sites where social distancing is impossible due to workers being "shoulder-to-shoulder."

At the moment, all building inspections (aside from emergency ones) have been suspended by the City, along with information requests, complaints and reports, and building, sign permit and zoning intake, review and issuance due to the fact that many city services have been temporarily cut.

"In addition, no preliminary project applications, zoning reviews, or property information letters can be applied for, processed or issued and no progress inspections will be undertaken by City Inspectors during this service disruption" the City of Toronto's website states.

"However, construction may proceed without a City inspection, provided the applicant submits a report from the qualified designer responsible for the design, after City services have resumed."

Hopefully, Ford will provide further comment on the concerns surrounding ongoing construction and the condition of worksites in the city at one of his many upcoming COVID-19 press conferences.

Lead photo by

Mary Crandall

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