City of Ottawa mandatory COVID-19 vaccination: Heavy construction industry concerned about project delay risk

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Ottawa Construction News staff writer

The National Capital Heavy Construction Association (NCHCA) has expressed concerns that the City of Ottawa’s new mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy could cause project delays and delivery problems.

The policy requires all workers and contractors at all city sites and projects to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1. The only exceptions are when the workers can provide a properly documented medical exemption.

“The timeline for compliance is very short,” the NCHCA wrote in a memo to its members on Monday evening.

The city’s policy was issued on Sept. 7. To comply with the deadline, individuals will need to have their first vaccination by Sept. 15 and second dose by Oct. 15.

The NCHCA says it has delivered a series of questions for clarification to the city, including:

  • How will personal information be collected and managed? “Is it up to our members to gather the information? Once it is provided to the city, who will have access to the information?”
  • How will the policy be enforced?
  • How will the vaccination status of subcontractors, truck drivers delivering to jobsites, etc. be managed? Who is responsible for doing this?
  • The turnaround time is very short with the first vaccinations required within five days. When will the city begin requiring/collecting vaccination information? Is Nov. 1, 2021 the date, or will proof of first vaccinations be required Sept. 15, 2021?
  • “Our industry is in a unique position of working outdoors, and robust OHSA policies are in place to ensure our sites are safe. Is there a possibility of discussing an exemption for our workers?”
  • “We are very concerned with the impact that this policy will have on project delivery and anticipate delays due to reduced workforces. Has this been considered and how will these delays be managed?”
  • There is no reference to testing in the policy. Is this an option for unvaccinated workers?
  • “Do we understand correctly that workers that are not fully vaccinated, and have not provided a medical exemption may complete the ‘mandatory COVID-19 education course’ instead? Will the city be making its course available to us?”

The NCHCA memo says: “We met with the city this morning to discuss implementation of the policy and the impact on our industry. The overarching message from the city was that they want everyone to be vaccinated. They had very few answers for us and were not receptive to our suggestions that they consider extending the timeline or consider rapid testing as an alternative to vaccination.”
“The city is still working out the details and would like to hear from us as to our challenges and ideas, and what would work for us,” the memo says.

Sutherland says that the NCHCA is trying to determine the scope and impact of the vaccination requirement by surveying its members, “to understand how many are not yet vaccinated, and why not.”

“Members could mandate that their workers must get vaccinated but they cannot force them to do so,” Sutherland wrote in an email to Ontario Construction News. “The city policy provides that its 20,000 employees have three options – get vaccinated, take vacation or leave, or lose their jobs. This also applies to employees that work remotely and there is no option for confirmatory testing.”

“We will have more information in the coming days as the survey results come in,” Sutherland says.

Ottawa Public Health OPH reported in its COVID-19 Vaccination Dashboard as of Oct. 8 that 89% of the city’s population 18 and above has received the first shot, and 84% the second dose. However, vaccination numbers are significantly lower among younger people who might be working in the heavy construction industry. OPH says 80% of people 18 to 29 years old are fully vaccinated and 73% have had one shot.

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