Worker health and safety have always been a top consideration for construction business owners, but new risks associated with COVID-19 have rapidly changed our industry and driven those concerns into overdrive. How can you assure you have the right protocol to protect your employees? This article addresses five key steps every construction business should take to ensure worker safety on and off the jobsite.
1. Keep Tabs on OSHA Guidance as It Evolves
The coronavirus pandemic is an evolving situation, with recommended worker health and safety practices expected to change as medical investigators learn more about the virus and its transmission. Fortunately for construction business owners, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been responsive in sharing resources. The federal agency developed an online repository for coronavirus guidance (osha.gov/coronavirus), which is updated regularly. Bookmark it now and return to it for reference often.
2. Adhere to State & Local Regulations
Keep an eye on local regulations with regard to essential business status, mandated closures, phased reopenings and other legal requirements. Coronavirus response varies at the state, county and municipal levels, so construction business owners need to pay extra attention to compliance considerations that can be different for each individual jobsite.
Track down government resources and alerts for employers in each specific locale where you have contracted work and check for updates. Failure to do so can result in fines, further work stoppages and unnecessary risk to the welfare of your employees.
3. Work with Your Staffing Partner
OSHA guidance through the Temporary Workers Initiative (osha.gov/temp_workers) maintains that construction business owners and their staffing partners hold joint responsibility for the health and safety of temporary employees.
Evaluate your staffing contracts for language regarding each party’s respective compliance responsibilities, and readdress any aspects of shared liability related to evolving coronavirus concerns. Your staffing partner can also be a helpful source of guidance and resource materials related to employee safety.
4. Develop & Promote Your Own COVID-19 Policy
Dedicated employee health and safety programs can help construction business owners maintain safe and compliant jobsites during the coronavirus pandemic. Such programs document adherence to regulations and give workers information on how to navigate site-specific safety challenges. The following new policies can help reduce the risk of employee exposure to coronavirus:
- Encourage or mandate that workers stay home if they are sick, and wear a mask over their nose and mouth while on the job.
- Advise employees, contractors and visitors to avoid physical contact and maintain at least 6 feet of personal space wherever possible.
- Limit reliance on work trailers to the greatest extent possible, and encourage workers to maintain social distancing while inside them.
- Encourage respiratory etiquette by covering coughs and sneezes.
- Promote personal hygiene. If workers do not have immediate access to soap and water for handwashing, provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
- Use approved cleaning chemicals approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.
- To the extent tools or equipment must be shared, provide and instruct workers to use alcohol-based wipes to clean tools before and after use. When cleaning tools and equipment, workers should consult manufacturer recommendations for proper cleaning techniques and restrictions.
- Keep in-person meetings (including toolbox talks and safety meetings) as short as possible, limit the number of workers in attendance, and use social distancing practices during said meetings.
- Clean and disinfect portable jobsite toilets regularly, keep hand-sanitizer dispensers filled and disinfect frequently touched surfaces (door pulls, toilet seats, etc.).
5. Update Your Safety Best Practices
In addition to the above guidelines for developing new coronavirus safety protocols, business owners should also update their existing employee safety best practices. Consider the following:
- Adding coronavirus protocol to your preconstruction onboarding and safety awareness training, with updates to all materials provided to workers and contractors
- Emphasizing any special coronavirus implications when conducting a pre-job safety analysis for each job on a project
- Building items related to coronavirus mitigation into your site survey checklist
- Addressing any tasks that may involve risk of coronavirus transmission when communicating the daily goals and activities on site
- Including coronavirus procedures in all safety meetings and toolbox talks related to shared activities, such as fall prevention, tool use or equipment protocol
- Recognizing and communicating any necessary coronavirus-related changes to respiratory protocols necessitated by hazardous materials
- Updating existing personal protective equipment guidance to reflect coronavirus regulations
- Incorporating coronavirus concerns into on-site injury reporting protocol and recordkeeping, and encouraging workers to identify safety and health concerns, such as emerging jobsite hazards, unsafe conditions, close calls, near misses, and actual incidents. By encouraging reporting and following up promptly on all reports, employers can address issues before someone gets hurt or becomes ill
- Making sure to address disinfection as an additional step in all training related to jobsite housekeeping and cleanliness procedures
Most of all, construction business owners need to recognize that the novel coronavirus is a serious threat to employee well-being in the workplace and beyond, and commit to properly addressing safety concerns as a team effort. We are all in this together.