Eight safety best practices for construction during COVID-19

By Kyle Schwarm, ABC of Wisconsin Marketing & Communications Director

Nearly 30 experts from the ABC of Wisconsin Safety Committee met online and discussed a number of issues and best practices related to jobsites, which remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are a few of the items that were discussed and some practices being implemented for each:

Wellness and taking temperatures to enter jobsites — There are mixed perspectives on this issue. Many contractors have not been able to secure thermometers, protective shields and other person protective equipment (PPE) to take temperatures or are unable to find individuals who are willing to take temperatures of those coming onto sites. Others have been able to secure touchless temperature guns.

Some are concerned that clearing someone for work — who may not have a fever but could be developing the virus — leaves contractors liable at a later date, while others say the potential for liability has to be tempered with self evaluation and responsibility of the individual coming on the site. Also, gauging a persons body temperature isn’t the only criteria recommended by the CDC. COVID-19 could be present without exhibiting recognized symptoms such as a fever, so temperature checks may not be the most effective method for protecting your workforce. Many contractors are using all these questions daily:

Employee must answer “NO” to all the below daily health assessment questions to be allowed to work.

  1. Have you ever tested positive for COVID-19 (Coronavirus)?
  2. Have you experienced a fever, cough, or shortness of breath within the last 14 days?
  3. Within the last 14 days, have you been in close contact with someone who has tested positive or experience symptoms related to COVID-19 (Coronavirus)?
  4. Have you recently either been to a country or area with known COVID-19 community spread (defined as a “hot spot”) or been in close contact* with a person from these areas.

Masks  — Employees must keep social distancing of 6′ as a priority, which allows workers to work without a mask, but when that is not possible (e.g. work in a trench), contractors are having workers wear masks or respirators. Masks are already being required for health care facility work and in government work.

Respirator fit testing — There is some concern that if N95 masks are used on the jobsite, they need to be fit tested. At least one OSHA representative has indicated that the testing should only be done if it is something that you have commonly done in the past. Another perspective is that using these respirators could leave a contractor open for OSHA scrutiny and an inspector could cite a contractor for not fit testing. Using a cloth mask for COVID-19 would eliminate that scrutiny.  The bottom line is to give the employee what will best protect them in any given situation.

Fear on the jobsites — With the initial onset of the COVID-19, it was business as usual, but as time has gone along and there have been more fatalities from the virus, more fear has emerged. More precautions are being taken on sites, but there are some workers who are expressing they should not be at work; with a few taking voluntary layoffs These individuals won’t be terminated, according to this contractor. There are also concerns by some workers that they are following the rules and taking the virus seriously, while someone else working on the same jobsite may not be taking it seriously. Some employers have reprimanded employees for not following the guidelines (such as social distancing) for a safe jobsite.

Social distancing and equipment sharing — Workers are driving themselves to work; being paid a benefit to do it. Meals are being eaten in vehicles as job trailers have been locked and lunchrooms have been eliminated. Employees are cooperating well. Just like with tools, there is no sharing of any containers. Shared water jugs have been eliminated. Individual water bottles are provided or employees are asked to bring their own water jugs. Daily cleaning is done on all equipment.

Formats and execution of Tool Box Talks and Job Hazard Analyses (JHAs) have changed as well. These are being done outside with social distancing. Guidelines for COVID-19 are incorporated on the JHA. Tool Box Talks include reminders about COVID-19. Only the lead person is writing down who is present. Social distancing is being used with these.

Planning for someone testing positive — If an individual is tested positive, the jobsite will be shut down immediately and cleaned thoroughly by a professional cleaning team. Contractors may want to have a professional cleaning firm ready. No one will return to the jobsite for three days to err on the side of caution. If an individual contracts it, the person will go through the normal protocol for medical assistance and quarantine. Contractors may want to consider cleaning the site if someone has had known exposure to COVID-19 and have the worker voluntarily quarantine for at least 14 days.

Clothing — Workers are encouraged not to bring clothing into their homes to prevent bringing the virus into the home. CDC indicates clothing can carry the virus for roughly 24 hours. Some contractors recommend a second set of clothes in their vehicles or changing clothes in their car or garage before entering the home.

Deliveries — Anyone doing drop offs or deliveries must follow the questionnaire protocol.

This will be the new normal moving forward until there is a vaccine. Many of these safety experts believe with the vaccine, there will be some of these practices that will be carried forward to construction jobsites to prevent other viruses from spreading.






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