Dealing with the Coronavirus has challenged us in ways we might never have thought possible. Now, amid a spike in new infections, states are resuming their stricter lockdown measures or pausing in their lifting of restrictions.
The construction industry has largely been deemed essential and allowed to continue through the quarantine period, and this is still the case. The difficult line that contractors and builders now have to walk is maintaining economic security and keeping their workforce healthy.
This balancing act hasn’t been easy at any point during the COVID-19 outbreak, and it certainly isn’t any simpler now. Information and government instructions are constantly evolving as we learn more and try to deal with new challenges.
The moderate course of action now appears to be continuing with work but employing any and all safety measures whenever and wherever possible. What those specific measures are will depend on the parameters of each project.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has given guidelines for construction work, and says that they must be applied as appropriate to each different job. As builders move forward while treading carefully, what are the best practices for construction in the times of COVID-19?
Enlist and Educate All Employees
Two very important elements to staying on top of this virus are employee education and communication. Staff members should be advised of all the known facts about COVID-19, including how easily it can spread and how long it can survive on different surfaces.
As with all health and safety issues, time should be made for coronavirus education in a normal working day. Workers should not be rushed or worried that the time they spend in the information sessions will influence their wagers.
These concerns could interfere with their ability to concentrate and understand the knowledge being imparted, which is ultimately counterproductive. The facts about the pandemic and how to prevent infection should be regularly repeated to keep them fresh in employees’ minds.
Similarly, posters should be placed in common areas, portable toilets and job shacks to provide timeous reminders of safety precautions and what each person can do to lower the spread of infection. If contractors make any changes to protocols, these should be explained too.
By communicating with workers and detailing the rationale behind decisions, operations managers can maintain the sense of community that they have with their staff. When employees feel like they’re part of a team they, in turn are much likelier to communicate and voice any concerns.
For example, if someone feels sick but is confident that they won’t lose their job or be persecuted in any way, they’ll feel more comfortable letting their supervisors know. Everyone should also be aware of the hand sprays and other sanitizing supplies and note when they need to be refilled.
In short, the age-old adage that if you see something, you should say something should be strictly applied to any workplace during the coronavirus pandemic – including and especially busy construction sites.
General Workplace Guidelines
- Anyone who feels unwell, has a fever or is coughing should stay at home.
- Face masks should be worn at all times, especially when working closely together is unavoidable.
- Individuals should avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth.
- No one should share food or drink with anyone else.
- Prior to eating, all workers should wash their hands.
- Employees should also wash their hands frequently throughout the course of the day.
- All handwashing should be done according to CDC handwashing guidelines.
- A designated trash can should be used for tissues, and all used tissues should be thrown there.
- Anyone who enters a place of work should be screened with a temperature check. This is especially important on a building site, where new subcontractors and other individuals are constantly coming and going. If an individual is coughing or has an above-normal temperature, they should not be allowed access.
Construction Site-Specific Advice
- Meetings should be held outside whenever weather permits.
- Meetings should be no larger than ten people.
- Workers with a higher risk of serious illness should refrain from attending in-person meetings.
- Bid walks, site inspections and planning meetings should be conducted via video conferencing.
- A policy of no handshaking should be implemented.
- Soap, disposable hand towels and running water should be provided at several on-site locations.
- All personnel arriving at a job site should be given disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, and gloves.
- Proper social distancing, where individuals stay at least six feet apart, will not always be possible on construction jobs. However, it should be practiced wherever feasible.
- High-touch shared areas including workers’ tools, scaffolding, rest areas, bathroom facilities and crew vehicles (especially the door handles, steering wheel, and gear or shift stick) must be disinfected every day.
- Stagger shift hours between different tradesmen to prevent large gatherings on a build site.
- Be mindful of home visits, and try to communicate with clients via email, text, telephone, or video call wherever possible.
Anticipate and Expect a Huge Impact
The economic fallout as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has already been massive. In the construction sector work might be continuing, but each job will take much longer than normal to reach completion.
The increased time spent on employee education, extra expense of sanitizing supplies and masks, and reduced staff when people have to stay home and quarantine, all end up costing building companies time and money.
Staggered groups of tradesmen and the additional precautions that everyone must take also extend the budget and time taken on each project. And there are events that supervisors can’t plan for, such as a subcontractor’s staff not being properly educated and transmitting the virus to a site.
In short, COVID-19 is going to continue to bring upheavals and financial implications. The best thing contractors and builders can do is remain calm and continue working as far as possible, within the guidelines given by authorities. The United States will make it through this challenging time – but it’s going to take a huge effort to do so.