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'Rules are stricter now': Quebec manufacturers adjust to life in the COVID-19 era

Montreal Gazette | Frédéric Tomesco

Effenco Development Inc. founder and president David Arsenault thought about showing up at his plant Monday morning for the resumption of work — but quickly realized it would be better if he stayed away.

“Rules are stricter now,” Arsenault, whose 50-employee company makes hybrid propulsion systems, said Monday afternoon in a telephone interview. “We want to minimize comings and goings between the plant and the office, and people are being asked to change out of their street clothes when they come in. I have to set an example, so didn’t come in.”

Arsenault was among thousands of Quebec entrepreneurs trying to come to grips with the new COVID-19 imposed normal as production at factories, construction and road work sites began anew after a seven-week hiatus.

Quebec’s economy ministry estimated Friday the restart affects about 176,000 manufacturing employees and 84,000 construction workers.

Manufacturers initially are limited to a maximum of 50 workers per shift, plus half of their remaining employees, per shift at any time on one site. The restrictions will be lifted as of May 25, though companies will still need to follow all COVID-19 provincial health rules.

In the meantime, many Quebec businesses are eager to make up for lost time. Revenues for the province’s manufacturers are poised to drop between 20 and 50 per cent this year, according to Manufacturiers et Exportateurs du Québec, a Montreal-based trade group with about 1,100 member companies.

“Things are extremely uncertain,” MEQ head Véronique Proulx said Monday in an interview. “What is clear is that companies won’t able to return to the pace they had before the crisis. Debt levels are rising, and those health-related measures aren’t helping. They cost money.”

Builders are also feeling the added burden. Pomerleau, one of the province’s biggest construction companies, spent weeks putting together a comprehensive “pandemic response plan” for employees and subcontractors that lists in painstaking detail the new health-related guidelines.

Under the new rules, workers must wear surgical masks or face shields for any job that requires more than 15 minutes of work. Pomerleau, which has about 80 active projects in Quebec, consulted with the CNESST workplace health and safety commission to devise the plan.

At the company’s larger construction sites, one-way staircases are now in place wherever practical to minimize worker contact, while elevators must be used at less than half of capacity. Staffers are now instructed to clean “high-touch” surfaces such as doorknobs and handrails after every shift.

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