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Permanent pandemic practices discussed at Quarry Tech Virtual Event


November 19, 2020
By Jay Koblun

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The pandemic has created a wide variety of challenges for industries everywhere, ranging from adapting to changing workplaces and new safety requirements to navigating a weakened economy while trying to manage the mental health of employees.

Now that the pandemic has been a part of our lives for more than eight months, how have companies been navigating the journey?

Tony Maida, Moumen Yousri, and Brent Morrey were part of the roundtable discussion on permanent pandemic practices during Quarry Tech Virtual Event.

Tony Maida, area manager at Selkirk Paving; Moumen Yousri, general manager of Northern Alberta Aggregates at Lafarge Canada; and Brent Morrey, director of aggregates performance at Colas USA and founding member of Aggregate Producers Association of Canada, joined editor of Rock to Road magazine Andrew Snook at Quarry Tech Virtual Event on Oc. 28, to discuss the new normal of pandemic practices at the workplace.

Permanent pandemic practices

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“I would say the health and wellbeing of our employees is our main concern. At all of our workplaces we have wash stations as you’re entering the building, we have signage for safe practices,” said Maida, adding there is staff asking other employees COVID-19 related question before they enter. “COVID questions, checking temperatures, have you travelled out of the province? Also, our employees want to know what precautions we’ve taken and what we’re doing to enforce it at all times.

“We all can’t wait for something to come up that’s going to solve this. Our drivers drive one truck. No multiple drivers in trucks. We have a couple of guys in the shop who are disinfecting and cleaning trucks throughout the day and also after shifts are done.”

Morrey, in New York at the time of the event, said things are very different in the U.S.

“The situation is certainly different south of the border. There are roughly 75,000 to 80,000 new cases per day. It’s the worst it’s ever been. State laws are really one of the driving factors for a lot of the enforcement that’s happening in each of the states,” he said. “New York and New Jersey were hit really hard and had to react fast and put some pretty serious measures in place. There’s a lot of concern right now with the winter coming, cases are rising across Canada as well.”

Morrey said the borders are getting stronger in the U.S. between states and any outsiders coming into the state of New Jersey or New York have to quarantine for 14 days.

“Six months ago, everyone was in this boat together, learning as we go. The governments are listening to us. They are a lot more responsive because no one wants to see activities shut down again.”

He said several organizations are hosting online and virtual events to counteract the number of cancelled in-person events.

Quarry Tech Virtual Event was held on Oct. 28, 2020.

“A lot of people are doing more virtually and that’s been a success. Sales has been a challenge for every company that I’ve spoken too. Face-to-face contact with customers is seldom. Visits, interviews, follow up on jobs—it is happening—just not as frequent and it’s creating a lot more work from home,” said Morrey, adding that the number of noise complaints has also risen since the pandemic hit because those who are traditionally at work are home now closer to pits and quarries.

Yousri, from Lafarge Canada, said the company focused on two pillars. Proactiveness and resilience.

“We started by learning from other locations in the world. We were lucky Canada was a little bit behind and Europe was ahead of us on the pandemic,” said Yousri. “We learned from what happened to them.”

Yousri said one of the guidelines Lafarge Canada put into practice before Canada did was to stop non-essential travel, especially international travels. And the company also assembled a business resilience team and created a coronavirus playbook.

“We’ve created a coronavirus playbook,” he said, adding that one of the challenges Lafarge Canada experienced was how it would navigate all the possible different scenarios the pandemic could present. “People were kind of confused—what would happen if? So, we created a sort of playbook with different scenarios which helped us manage the situation in a better way.”

Yousri said Lafarge Canada’s measures were effective because it didn’t have any cases transmitted within the business from one person to another.

Future challenges

Companies across the country have stood together in new safety measures and guidelines surrounding the pandemic but roundtable members discussed what new challenges they could be facing in the next coming months. Including COVID-fatigue, supply chains, and more.

“Our employees are unsure whether they’re going to be in the office or not,” said Maida, adding that at Selkirk Paving, employees have handled new guidelines and rules very well. “We saw some of that [COVID-fatigue] at the start, but everyone has been precautioned and reminded to maintain social distances and not travel in groups.”

Morrey said the biggest upcoming challenge is the uncertainty in tomorrow. From seasonal workers asking whether they have a job or not, to governments on the municipal level for funding and future work.

“How long is the stimulus funding going to last? Where is the money going to come from? Trying to forecast business investment for the future,” said Morrey. “There’s more uncertainty around a lot of these fronts which has been a challenge. Certainly, cross-border activity with suppliers for parts is a big issue at the moment. In terms of having contractors come in to look at something, that’s difficult to do virtually. Getting spare parts is becoming a lot longer of a process too.”

Yousri said he and his team have had to focus some of their energy back to basic safety practices pre-COVID-19.

“When this pandemic started everyone was overwhelmed and we started to see a spike in first aid reports and incidents. So, we had to take a safety pause and refocus on core safety values that we have, not only about the pandemic, we have a business to run and have to keep our employees safe,” he said.

Yousri said moving forward management needs to take a good look at the mental health of their employees and peers.

“We need to make sure we focus on this and don’t underestimate it.”

For on-demand sessions from Quarry Tech Virtual Event, visit rocktoroad.com/virtual-events