As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread across the nation, many industries have been put on pause, but a considerable number of construction projects are still regarded as essential business. Workers, supervisors, and safety professionals on these projects must follow the best practices in order to protect workers and their families from being exposed to this coronavirus.
Many responsible contractors are eager to publicly prove that they can continue to work safely while also supporting the nation’s critical infrastructure and providing the much-needed income to workers. After all, the construction industry provides employment to roughly 11 million people in the United States.
Site-Specific Health and Safety Plans, consistent with best practices, must be developed and implemented throughout construction projects. Although, what is appropriate and feasible for each project may be different considering each construction project involves unique characteristics and circumstances. The following guidance is intended to provide the industry with general best practices that can be modifies to fit the specific needs of projects.
Physical Distancing in the Workplace
According to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, coronavirus respiratory droplets of all sizes can travel anywhere from 23 to 27 feet after a host coughs or sneezes. Evidence suggests that droplets can even be released by talking, and that the virus can remain viable for many hours on surfaces such as countertops, doorknobs and tools. We have also seen evidence that individuals who are infected with the virus but not yet displaying symptoms are still capable of transmitting it.
These facts reiterate the critical importance of ensuring physical distancing between workers on a construction project. Owners and contractors are responsible for adopting and implementing a Physical Distancing Protocol and make everyone aware of what is expected by posting Protocol details at the site. It has been reported that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is verifying such protocols as well as housekeeping and sanitation of break areas.
COVID-19 safe construction practices can be looked at in regard to the following six categories:
All job briefings should incorporate COVID-19 safe practices and Task Hazard Assessments (THA) that identify whether a particular task can be performed by a single employee. If not, Personal Protective Equipment is needed to assure the safety of all employees. A hazard analysis can be documented with photos and a Serious Injury Facility (SIF) program can be implemented in which each worker completes a personal “what can kill you today” pocket card.
It is advised to designate the appropriately trained personnel to monitor for proper social distancing. Sites can be monitored either directly, via web or security cameras or even by drones on larger sites. A provider of construction safety software, Smartvid.io, recently released an application that can automatically determine when workers fail to practice proper social distancing.
Work schedules should be modified by staggering shifts or alternating days of work. Dedicated shifts can scale down the number of workers necessary on a site at any time. Non-essential personnel should be allowed to work from home whenever possible. Breaks should also be scheduled to decrease interactions.
Common behaviors such as traditional contact greetings like handshakes must be restricted. Employers should be required to provide extra parking to discourage ridesharing and use or public transit. If bussing is needed, workers should be separated by every other seat.
Meetings should be performed either online or via conference call whenever possible. If in-person meetings are still necessary, such as tailgate talks, follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and limit groups to 10 people or less. Everyone should be at least 6 feet apart with markers to help people know where they can stand safely.
- Confined Spaces
Confined spaces should be evaluated for maximum occupancy. Post signage as a reminder of restrictions.
Site Logistics and Control During Covid-19
Quite possibly one of the most important aspects of coronavirus safety measures is access control. The number of visitors to job sites should be both controlled and limited. Measures like fencing, no-contact card readers, modular turnstiles and guard stations can help control site access and outlets. All workers and visitors to the site should be screened for symptoms in a safe manner such as no-contact thermometers to verify that they do not have a fever.
Site deliveries need to be carefully planned out with contact and cleaning protocols such as:
- Laydown areas for deliveries should be specifically identified
- Paint can be used to draw lines in order to limit gang boxes and material source areas
- Jersey style barriers can be used to separate workers from delivery locations
- Trash should be kept in specific locations for easy transport
- Delivery personnel should remain in their vehicles when possible and have minimal contact with site workers
Administrative Action and Policies Since the Outbreak
Management must adopt a zero-tolerance policy for employees coming to work while sick and encourage workers to remain home and self-quarantine. All supervisors should be aware of the symptoms of COVID-19 and can even create an electronic health verification form for workers to fill out daily. Affirmative responses to any of the following questions requires the worker to stay off the site for 14 days:
- Have you or anyone you have been in direct contact with had a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days?
- Have you been in contact with anyone who is in the process of being tested for COVID-19?
- Have you traveled internationally or been to any domestic location categorized as Level 3 by the CDC in the last 14 days?
- Are you currently or have experienced in the past 72 hours coughing or shortness of breath?
The mental health of workers should not be set aside in tense times like this. Ask workers how they and their families are doing will show genuine interest. Recognize and praise workers who are following protocols correctly.
Sanitation and Hygiene to Prevent the Spread of Germs
A cleaning and sanitation schedule should be incorporated to decontaminate items that are frequently touched, such as handrails, doorknobs, locks and latches. These protocols should address cross-contamination and worker education on frequent cleaning or smartphones, computers, pens, etc. Hand washing stations should be readily available and community lunch areas should be eliminated.
Personal Protective Equipment such as masks and gloves should be worn at all times and sanitized following the manufacturers recommendations for decontamination frequently. Shared tools should be eliminated wherever possible and all tools should be cleaned regularly, which means disinfecting before and after each use.