Construction sites are considered essential, but they still pose risks for everyone working the site. While the need to continue construction work continues, we have to know how to properly protect the workers to protect their health as well as the health of the general public by decreasing the spread of the illness.
Contractors should continually stay up-to-date on the latest guidelines for the COVID-19 recommendations as it’s an ever-evolving condition that keeps putting us in unprecedented waters. Knowing the general guidelines and being willing to be flexible and train employees whenever any guidelines change is crucial to everyone’s safety.
What Should You Do?
As a construction site, it’s imperative that you have an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan. If you already have a plan in place, make sure it meets the requirements of COVID-19 as there are many more restrictions and requirements you must put in place.
Most importantly consider how COVID-19 could affect your workplace, including:
- Higher absenteeism rates
- The need to restructure the workplace, whether staggering workers, reassigning or reworking shifts, or reducing the number of employees you use at any given time
- Cross training employees to make up for absenteeism and to reduce the number of people on the job at one time
- Dealing with delayed or halted deliveries
As is the case for any industry, you and your employees should use the following guidelines:
- Stay home if you are sick. If you present with any symptoms of COVID-19, such as a fever or difficulty breathing, stay home. You should stay at home until you have had no symptoms for at least 3 days (no fever or coughing). This is in addition to the isolation required for 10 days after appearance of your first symptom.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow. If the coughing or sneezing is due to anything other than allergies, go home. Immediately wash or sanitize your hands after coughing or sneezing.
- Keep your hands away from your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Keep a 6-foot distance from everyone and don’t have any physical contact, including shaking hands.
- Drive yourself to the worksite, don’t commute with co-workers.
- Avoid sharing tools or any work equipment. If you do have to share, sanitize the tool before touching or using it.
- Frequently disinfect surfaces that have constant use or contact.
- Have easily accessible hand washing stations at every site (multiple if possible)
- If handwashing isn’t possible, have hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol available
- Don’t require doctor notes to prove an illness, let any worker that thinks they may have been exposed stay home to prevent the spread
- Bring your own food and drink from home. This eliminates the risk of spreading the germs at the food truck.
- Never share food, drinks, or utensils.
- Try holding all meetings over Skype or another virtual platform rather than seeing anyone in person that can be avoided.
Keep Your Distance
In the construction industry, this can be a hard rule to follow, but it’s necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
When two or more employees are needed to handle the project, structure it so that they can remain 6 feet apart at all times. If this isn’t possible, precautions must be put in place that eliminates the risk of spreading germs amongst each other.
Each jobsite should have a Site Safety Representative (SSR) that implements the latest safety practices recommended by OSHA and the CDC. The SSR should be on premises at all times. In addition, the labor supervisor should have the ability to stop activities that don’t meet the latest COVID-19 requirements. If there is ever a situation where you aren’t sure, stop the job and move everyone to safety.
During times where multiple contractors from various trades must be on the site, ensure that all contractors understand the latest COVID-19 Construction Field Safety Guidelines. The guidelines for the specific jobsite will be followed, no matter if the contractor’s other sites don’t have the same requirements. If anyone isn’t following the proper protocols, they should be removed from the site.
Wear Protective Equipment
All employees must have the proper equipment to protect themselves as well as those around them. Proper protective equipment includes:
- Face coverings or shields
All employees, whether within six feet of one another or not should wear a face covering. This helps eliminate the spread of the virus from those that don’t realize they carry it because they are asymptomatic. The face covering isn’t necessarily PPE, but it helps minimize the risk of droplets spreading should an infected person cough or sneeze, especially if they don’t know they are infected.
Monitor High Traffic Areas
Certain areas are high traffic, putting anyone at risk. Know these ‘trigger’ areas and put plans in place to manage the traffic. Always keep a supervisor in this area to ensure that all distancing measures are taking place. A few ideas to minimize traffic include:
- Stagger use of the equipment, such as elevators and hoists. Schedule the work so that the minimum number of people is in place at once.
- Determine the best way to manage deliveries that keep a 6-foot distance
- Spread out the trades over the course of the day so that no two trades are scheduled to work at the same time to minimize exposure.
- Reduce work hours to reduce the number of people on site at one time.
- Alternate days that each employee comes in so that you minimize the number of people on the site at one time.
Create Quarantine Rules
It’s not just the people that have COVID-19 that pose the risk, but those that have exposure pose a risk as well. It’s important to trace exposure to any affected worker immediately. If you know employees have had contact with an infected worker, enforce quarantine rules of at least 14 days to ensure the exposed employees don’t have the virus.
Exposure includes not only exposure to employees but any household members or anyone else the employee has had close contact with that has the virus. The guidelines state that anyone you had contact with that has exposure that you saw for more than 10 minutes puts you at risk. This starts 48 hours prior to the affected person showing symptoms as that is when they are most contagious.
These protocols require you to have trust in your employees and guidelines requiring them to report exposure to any family members or others they have come into contact with that have COVID-19.
If anyone has had exposure with an infected person whether at home or work, they should stay on home quarantine for 14 days after exposure, this includes the two days before the infected person showed symptoms.
If a worker becomes ill on the job, it’s important that you have a procedure to immediately isolate him/her. If you have a room you can designate as the isolation room, use it. If you don’t, at the very least, set up screens or areas with doors that close to use as the isolation room until you can safely remove the infected person from the jobsite. All contact should be avoided with the person showing symptoms.
As you move the infected person, consider asking him/her to wear a mask. It doesn’t have to be the mandated PPE that workers must wear, but a face covering to protect others from the secretion of his/her coughs or sneezes as that’s how the virus spreads.
It’s also important to trust your employees; if they state they have to stay home to take care of an infected household member, let them stay home. Even if they aren’t caring for the household member, there’s a good chance they’ve been exposed to the virus and should be isolated to prevent further spread.
Screening and Sanitizing
It’s imperative that you set up screening at the worksite and screen the contractors on a daily basis before they are allowed to work. This ensures that infected workers don’t end up on the jobsite and infecting others. If it’s feasible, screening a couple of times a day can prevent the spread even further.
Daily screening can include taking temperatures and monitoring each person’s respiratory health. Any person with a temperature of 100.4 should be sent home for isolation. If anyone does present with symptoms while on the job, it’s important that you have a policy and procedure in place to get the employee safely away from other employees. This includes his/her own transportation that doesn’t involve contact with others.
In addition regularly cleaning and sanitizing all common areas is crucial. This includes trailers, bathrooms, elevators, and lifts. If there is a construction office, make sure all shared areas and tools are continually sanitized, not just cleaned. Use an EPA-registered disinfectant to clean items such as countertops, doorknobs, light switches, pones, toilet handles, machine handles, and vehicles.
Make sure disinfectants are available throughout the jobsite and office for ease of use and encourage employees to use them as often as possible throughout the day.