Health and safety in the construction industry during pandemics

El-Diraby, Tamer | $50,000

Ontario University of Toronto 2020 NSERC Alliance COVID-19 Grant

The objective of this proposal is to collate and disseminate best practices about site safety and workers’ health during pandemics, and use that to a) support practitioners in reengineering their practices, and b) inform policymakers regarding possible roadmaps for a sustained policy on safety during pandemics. Aside from the health industry, safety in construction sites during pandemics should be a top priority. Like the important industries of farming and logistics, construction work is primarily conducted outdoors. Uniquely, however, construction sites are temporary workplaces, which makes ensuring consistent health and adequate hygiene facilities a challenge. Construction work in infrastructure operations and emergency management is essential to the functioning of the economy and well-being of communities. At the tail end of pandemics, investments in new construction are the most used mechanism to boost the economy. Finally, because of the temporary and project-oriented nature of business models in the industry, many construction workers are some of the most vulnerable financially.

Obviously, due to the ongoing situation of COVID-19, there is an immediate need for research and new thinking about safety during pandemics. However, the need extends to the medium term as this pandemic is expected to last (in one or more cycles) for 1-2 years. In the long term, the need is also clear because, as the world gets more connected, we should expect and be ready for repeats of such situations.

This proposal is presented by an industry-academia team. Our partners represent a wide cross-section of the industry with diversified expertise, knowledge, and perspective. This will expedite our access to resources, such as interviewing stakeholders and providing access to data. Their active engagement in the research will provide a valuable asset: grounding the research work. Our main goal is to provide the industry with actionable and applied research. More importantly, they are in a position to have the ability to propagate the results of our work widely and effectively. To this end, we will make this alliance for urgent research work and a long-term partnership to help use the results of this research work to uplift the conditions and effectiveness of safety culture in the construction industry.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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