From day one of the State of Emergency in Ontario, hospital construction projects have continued through the COVID-19 pandemic, deemed essential by the government to keep our healthcare infrastructure moving forward in the face of strained capacity. Keeping these projects in motion comes with its inherent risks, and proper training is a critical step in keeping work crews—ranging from architects to construction workers to healthcare personnel—informed and safe, as well as those around them, while operating in environments with invisible threats.
The United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) have been providing an Infectious Control Risk Assessment (ICRA) program as part of their Carpenters International Training Fund (CITF) for several years, and now the current pandemic is bringing increased awareness of such practices meant to safeguard the already stressed capacity of healthcare infrastructure. The ICRA program educates professionals in safe practices for working in healthcare construction and associated fields. Whether building new facilities or renovating active hospitals, it is especially important in these trying times for workers to be properly trained for construction in the healthcare sector, to protect not only themselves but the vulnerable patients and workers around them.
When not executed with the proper knowledge, work such as the removal of ceilings, walls, or flooring can release dangerous airborne and surface contaminants trapped behind materials, which can be transferred to other areas through a range of unintentional means like HVAC systems, drafts, or tracking by foot. When working in hospitals occupied by patients with compromised immune systems, much more susceptible to secondary infection, ICRA training gives UBC members the understanding necessary to effectively protect patients through containment of pathogens and controlling of airflow, while minimizing disruption to essential construction.
The ICRA curriculum was developed through consultation with construction-related infection control experts, and is subject to regular reviews to keep materials relevant to evolving healthcare needs. UBC members learn in an interactive environment, with an "ICRA Lab" training facility modelled after standard hospital interiors. A recent video released by UBC Local 27 offers an inside look at the union's ICRA Lab, where members have access to an immersive, realistic environment to conduct training. Adam Bridgman, Provincial Training Coordinator Carpentry at Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario, describes this hands-on approach as integral to keeping people safe, saying that "ICRA Training coupled with infection control during renovations of health-care facilities saves lives."
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