Count yourself fortunate if your company can keep its job sites up and running. However, while working during the coronavirus crisis, it’s important to ensure your job sites are safe and workers are maintaining appropriate social distance onsite.
At first glance, a construction site may seem a relatively low-risk area for transmission – workers are spread out and/or outdoors where air movement and sunlight can minimize viral transmission. But any job site has risk areas where your crew may have to work closer together or handle the same items, such as tools and materials.
Taking the following steps, along with using appropriate PPE, can keep workers apart while working together.
Manage Onsite Staffing
The easiest way to ensure proper social distancing is to limit the number of people onsite. Only essential workers should be present. If any work can safely be performed offsite or delayed, it should. Naturally, anyone who feels ill or has symptoms should stay home.
For those workers who are onsite, following best practices for maintaining social distance is vital. OSHA released guidance specifically for the construction industry, including the following key steps:
- Whenever possible, workers should stay six feet away from each other. This includes minimizing interactions in high-traffic areas such as stairwells, lifts, trailers, and break rooms. Lunches, breaks, and even the order in which project tasks are done may need to be rescheduled to help maintain social distance.
- Rotating the trades onsite and increasing the number of shifts to make it easier to keep six feet of personal space.
- Avoid sharing tools. If tools are used by more than one person, they must be cleaned and disinfected between uses, per manufacturer or CDC guidelines. Make sure workers know both the procedure for cleaning each tool and who is responsible for doing so.
Some of these steps will involve coordinating with suppliers and subcontractors, as well as discussing them with workers to reinforce the changes and the reasons behind them. Make an extra effort to keep the lines of communication open, and let every stakeholder know that you want to work with them if they have any concerns or questions.
Further, the Center for Construction Research and Training recommends designating a COVID-19 officer for each site who is tasked with overseeing these steps.
Provide a Safe Environment
As so many of us have learned in the past few weeks, it’s hard to maintain 100% compliance with social distancing. To further decrease the risk of virus transmission, it’s important to ensure the worksite itself is safe.
Worksite safety includes having adequate PPE on hand and performing more frequent cleaning, especially of commonly used areas or items, such as jobsite toilets, tools, etc. To help you assess potential risk, the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) compiled a checklist you can adapt to your own job sites. It covers factors ranging from task scheduling to worker training.
Guidelines from CDC and OSHA are changing frequently as we learn more about the coronavirus and how it spreads. Check often to ensure the information you’re sharing is up to date.
Keep Safety Meetings Safe
Meetings are a vital tool for keeping safety top of mind for workers, but the large group huddle doesn’t work in an era of mandatory social distancing. It’s more important than ever to communicate often and clearly with workers about procedures and safety concerns, but how you do that is going to look a little different.
To help workers meet social distancing guidelines, meetings should be done with smaller groups. How small will vary depending on the size of the space you have to meet. You want workers to be able to stand six feet apart. It may make sense to break workers into smaller groups based on their job duties and/or when their shifts start, if you are staggering shifts.
Keep meetings as short as possible, while still covering important information, including any changes. If feasible, deliver information in ways that reduce personal contact, such as video conferencing or handouts.
If you need COVID-19-specific resources, several reliable organizations have worker resources and toolbox talks you can use, including Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), NECA, National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), and ConstructConnect. Most are available in English and Spanish.
With a little creative thinking and strategic planning, even the busiest job site can stay open while allowing workers to observe social distancing to stay safe.