Ontario to allow dealers to reopen on May 4 with a catch

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The government of Canadian province Ontario will allow auto dealerships to reopen on May 4, but there’s a catch. They can do so by appointment only.

Dealerships were just one of a number of businesses Ontario Premier Doug Ford said could reopen, as long as they abide by safety rules that allow staff and customers to maintain physical distancing of six feet.

The premier said the reopening is based on advice of the province’s chief medical officer of health.

“After being closed for a month now, we’re just happy to have the doors open, even if it’s by appointment only. It’s good news, that’s for sure,” Trillium Automobile Dealers Association spokesman Frank Notte told Automotive News Canada.

For nearly four weeks TADA had been working on safety protocols for “the new reality,” Notte said.

“We knew before the province announced any restrictions being lifted they would want to see how a certain industry would set itself up to safely reopen,” he said.

The association consulted with its Quebec counterpart in designing the safety measures, which it then shared with the province. That led Ford and his government to ultimately approve reopening by appointment only.

TADA says this means test drives are once again allowed in the province. But it might mean a dealer has to follow a customer in a separate car if the vehicle being driven doesn’t allow for social distancing inside.

Many of the other businesses Ford said could begin operating Monday are seasonal. They include Garden centers, nurseries, landscaping businesses, further construction projects (some sites had been shut down while others continued) and automatic and self-serve car washes.

Marinas and golf courses can prepare to reopen, the premier said.

Safety guidelines

Separately, Ontario has issued the province’s auto sales and manufacturing safety guidelines intended to keep workers healthy as the North American economy gradually reopens. 

The sectors were two of several that were issued guidelines Thursday. The sector-specific guidelines contain recommendations and tips for employers on how to keep workers safe on the job. 

Some of the suggestions the Canadian province makes for auto retailers include:

  • Having all employees and visitors wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, before entering the workplace, after contact with others, or with surfaces others have touched;
  • Including hand washing before breaks and at shift changes;
  • Sanitizing the workplace thoroughly and often, especially frequently touched surfaces;
  • Identifying all activities where people may come into contact with others, and employing ways to minimize contact and maintain physical distance;
  • Keeping visitors and staff a safe distance apart by using floor markings, installing barriers and partitions, and changing the work layout where possible to increase physical distance;
  • Rescheduling unnecessary visits by supply chain partners, vendors, service technicians, or others;
  • Introducing more fresh air by increasing air intake and opening windows and bay doors; 
  • Avoiding central recirculation where possible, and;
  • Screening workers regularly for health issues.

The province says dealers should consider issuing or requiring personal protective equipment (PPE) “as a last resort.”

“PPE is effective only if appropriate to the situation and people wear it correctly,” the province says on its website. “Ensure PPE training includes the fit, use, care, putting on and taking off, maintenance, cleaning and limitations of the PPE.”

Manufacturing suggestions

Ontario is home to several major auto assembly plants owned by Fiat Chrysler, Ford Motor Co., General Motors and others. Some of the manufacturing suggestions issued by the province include:

  • Adding floor markings and barriers to manage traffic flow and physical distancing;
  • Staggering start times, shifts, breaks, and lunch times;
  • Installing barriers, including plexiglass, where practical;
  • Having all employees and visitors wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water before entering the workplace and after contact with surfaces others have touched;
  • Including hand-washing before breaks and at shift changes;
  • Enforcing rigorous use of site sanitation protocols such as use of foot wear cleaning (for example, boot buddies/boot sanitizing trays);
  • Introducing more fresh air by increasing the ventilation system’s air intake or opening doors and windows. Avoid central recirculation where possible, and;
  • Rescheduling any unnecessary visits to the workplace by supply chain partners, vendors or others who don’t need to be there now.

Posters for both employers and workers also offer advice on preventative actions, including physical distancing and workplace sanitation. Employers are encouraged to download the posters to print and post in the workplace.

“I am laser-focused on opening things up as quickly as possible,” Ford said.

Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton also said Thursday that province has hired 58 new labor inspectors, some of whom will assist in communicating the new safety guidelines. Others will enforce physical distancing recommendations and close non-essential businesses that are open. All the inspectors have the power to issue $750 fines to noncompliant businesses.

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Saurabh Shukla

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