Maintaining Construction Safety During COVID-19

Managing multiple construction sites has always been multi-faceted with several different factors coming into play at the same time, be it the safety of our workers, to sourcing various trades, construction materials and equipment, to working with neighbours in the community. I generally oversee two to three sites in various stages of construction at any given time, with another two to three projects in the pre-construction phase.

The world changed in March of 2020 and with it how we approached the construction of high-rise condominium towers. Because construction sites require many workers onsite during the same period of time, COVID-19 presented a new, serious threat, and challenged our team to adopt new health and safety protocols and practices that continue to be tweaked based on new regulations and information and implemented with public health guidelines at the time.

When people ask me what it’s been like managing multiple construction sites during a global
pandemic, I focus on key practices that have allowed CentreCourt to safely complete new
residential projects over the last year, including occupancy at Zen King West, while also
planning for three new construction starts in 2021. Perhaps most importantly, we have developed new protocols and initiatives to run safe sites, while constantly adapting based on the phase of the project and rising COVID rates in Ontario.

Clean Sites are Safe Sites
A core component of running a safe site is a clean site. Along with a dedicated team sanitizing
every morning before the sites open, we have cleaning teams during peak production phases to constantly sanitize high-traffic areas such as stairwells, offices, and construction hoists. We work to stagger start times for our various trades, promote six-foot physical distancing wherever possible, and disperse the various trade teams throughout the building evenly. To ensure everyone has access to personal protection equipment (PPE) onsite and can protect themselves, we supply our trades with masks, sanitizer and gloves. One of the more visible and effective forms of combating COVID-19 is having clearly visible wash stations near the entrance as well as throughout the rest of the building. Not only do these station promote cleanliness during the work day, but trades can also wash their hands at the end of the day before going home and seeing their family. A commitment to hand-washing is something we will continue to do even when COVID-19 is a thing of the past.

Transit City – Towers 4&5 – VMC: specialized diaphragm wall and caisson drilling equipment delivered to site. Despite the site’s large footprint, the massive equipment and materials consumed much of the area. The site ran 24/6, and D-Wall and caissons were able to be installed simultaneously with limited working room.

Working with Trades
In normal times, during peak construction periods we could have 16 to 18 different trade tasks operating on a different floor each week. At the end of the cycle, a finished floor of suites would be handed over for quality control inspections and deficiency resolutions. This process was hectic and a whirlwind of activity even pre-COVID, and almost overnight our project staff had to adapt their process and planning to not only separate individual trades by suites but to also ensure they could access the building in a safe manner while still distancing.

To our benefit, the build-out of suites typically involves one person per task, therefore a suite usually has no more than one person occupying the unit at any given time. In general, our supers and the industry work to manage suite production by assigning one trade per floor and cycling the number of trades up the tower one after another, similar to a vertical production line.

When it comes time to address the common areas such as amenity floors and the lobby, it requires more people at the same time which can become challenging to ensure physical distancing. In this case, we have dedicated managers responsible for coordinating trades and their top priority is to control the number of workers and separation of tasks as best as possible.

Transit City – Towers 4&5 – VMC: shoring and excavation activities are complete and garage formwork is well underway. In the background, the recently completed Transit City Towers 2 & 3.

Taking Successes and Planning for the Future
One of our greatest pandemic success stories is the Zen King West condominium project in Toronto’s Liberty Village neighbourhood. COVID-19 hit just as we were forming the top of the tower, and since we did not know what to expect at the time, we made the decision to shut down the site until we could develop proper protocols and procedures. This was not business as usual and we needed to feel confident we could safely operate a construction site. This was at a time when most other construction sites remained open. Once we felt we could safely operate, we opened the site with the new policies and procedures. The project moved ahead, transitioning into different phases of construction including the most difficult phase during City Occupancy inspections which typically have the highest number of onsite workers.

The Transit City Towers 4 and 5 projects were also in progress when the pandemic hit. At the time, most of the work was outside, making it easier to manage. However, as that project has progressed, we are now looking at ways to continue construction inside the tower with new stringent health and safety protocols in place.

Over the past year we have been forced to look at ways to adapt while still working efficiently to keep up with CentreCourt’s construction schedules. With COVID-19 protocols, combined with CentreCourt’s practices, we are anticipating starting the construction of three new high-rise development projects this year — 55 Mercer, The Forest Hill and 199 Church – and are optimistic that 2021 will bring great accomplishments.

Zen King West, completed in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic in December, 2020. “Because we were laser focused on operating safely and effectively, the project was still completed on schedule,” says Barth.

Robert Barth is vice president of construction at Toronto-based high-rise residential developer CentreCourt and is responsible for the oversight and management of all construction related activities and personnel.

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