Sen. Gatchalian urges gov’t to ensure safety of construction workers in ‘Build, Build, Build’

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Hearing on National Power Transmission Grid

Senator Win Gatchalian has urged the government and its contractors to ensure the safety and well-being of construction workers as the government eyes the resumption of the construction of big-ticket projects under the ‘Build, Build, Build’ flagship program of the Duterte administration.

On the other hand, Sen. Nancy Binay said that “we need an army of Covid-19 trackers with the transition from the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to general community quarantine (GCQ).”

She said the government should be prepared for an intensified contract tracing vital to curb community infections.

It may sound exaggerated, but Binay said that a battalion of trained “trackers” would be the key to curbing the spread of the COVID pandemic in communities.

“The first step once ECQ is lifted is to see to it that the LGU is ready and well-equipped when it comes to tracking possible carriers who have been exposed to infected people. It is best that we come prepared and start training an army of contact tracers as we transition from ECQ to GCQ,” the senator pointed out.

She added that contact tracing is an essential public health safety tool to help contain the spread of the coronavirus disease.

“If we can train enough volunteers from both health and non-health sectors, sila ang magiging ‘army’ of public health fieldworkers and barangay healthworkers trained to track down every case should the situation gets worse,” Binay said.

Once the stay-at-home orders are lifted, the senator added that an army of contact tracers will be needed for possible surges of infected cases, and the possible resurgence of a second wave pandemic.

“Contact tracing is a labor-intensive mission. Kaya, we need to train practically a battalion of trackers deployed in small functional teams or units. And since may available naman na covid-tracking apps, we can either provide tablets or use existing mobile phones and arm them with necessary tools to make the system work,” Binay noted.

With public health guidance, Binay added that the DOH, DILG and LGUs should still take the lead in creating a special unit of trackers who will make phone calls, visit communities, interview those in contact with suspected and confirmed carriers, as well as infected people who can be asymptomatic carriers who have exposed others without knowing it.

Binay noted that since the time COVID-19 emerged in the country, it has exposed the government’s handicap in managing public health particularly in the area of contact tracing.

“Kahit pa na i-downgrade sa GCQ, dapat mas maging maingat at conscious tayo na sundin ang minimum public health protocols (wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing,  quarantine), and infection control measures (coughing, sneezing etiquette). We should never let our guards down and must strengthen our public health system’s key actions like testing capacity, isolation facilities, medical treatment and contact tracing readiness,” Binay said.

Currently, the IATF has tasked the DILG-PNP to do contract tracing since police are trained in surveillance and information gathering. However, without enough public health background and because of their unfamiliarity of the people and urban terrain, the DILG admitted having a hard time tracking down suspected Covid carriers who may have already infected other people.

Gatchalian made the call as the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) announces that priority and essential construction work may be done in areas placed under General Community Quarantine (GCQ), in accordance with DPWH guidelines.

Gatchalian emphasized the need for the government to find a way of implementing these construction projects while maintaining a high level of safety measures for workers

He likewise called on the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to issue guidelines that will provide direction to employers and workers in  ensuring a safe environment in construction sites under dire circumstances.

According to Gatchalian, the guidelines should include the observance of social distancing in the construction area by clearly delineating spaces, staggering time schedule, and/or reducing the number of workers in specific working sites.

Contractors should also provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to workers and they should minimize the use of shared tools in order to ensure their safety, according to Gatchalian.

When these workers get back to work, Gatchalian said they should be properly trained because this time around they will be doing construction work using PPE or a new of set safety tools and equipment.

The senator said that construction workers, even engineers, and safety officers should be provided sanitized accommodation near their project sites. He also emphasized the need for safety officers to enforce DOLE’s occupational safety guidelines given the new normal situation.

Gatchalian himself has seen the plight of several workers in construction sites while distributing relief packages during the early stages of the implementation of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

“Our skilled workers are our country’s best asset. They are the backbone of the country’s strong and resilient economy.,” he said.

“Aside from providing them jobs at this time, let’s not forget about their well-being and by issuing clear guidelines on a safe working environment, we will be able to ensure their safety. “

Gatchalian, who is Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs, recognizes the importance of slowly opening economic activities to jump start the country’s economy which is reeling from the ill effects of the pandemic./Stacy Ang

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