The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many industries to re-evaluate their safety procedures while delivering services for the benefit of workers and clients alike. The hotel chain Marriott International, for example, recently rolled out hospital-grade disinfecting methods to achieve next-level cleanliness in its rooms. Many restaurants are adopting hands-free payment and delivery options as a way to give take-out diners more confidence that their purchase won’t make them sick.
For sensitive construction jobs like schools, hospitals, retirement homes, and medical offices, maintaining occupant safety and comfort is paramount. While that has always been true, the actions of contractors working on facilities for vulnerable individuals will likely be under greater scrutiny for the foreseeable future. It’s a good idea to review your current safety protocols and make sure your employees take them seriously.
Below are ways contractors can be more mindful of worker and client safety while working on sensitive projects.
Be as Clean as Possible
When working on a health-related construction project, you’ll likely be working near people who are immunocompromised due to age, cardiovascular issues, and a number of pre-existing health conditions. If you’re working on a school or childcare facility, you’ll be operating near children, who are more vulnerable to environmental hazards than adults.
Children under the age of five breathe more air, drink more water, and eat more food per unit of body weight than adults do, and as a consequence, experience higher rates of exposure to pathogens.
When working on these types of projects, try to sequester construction areas as much as possible. Consider using temporary plastic partitions, portable dust containment units, and wall and insulation products that minimize dust and fibrous materials.
Try to keep work areas clean throughout the project rather than letting building materials and trash pile up. This keeps mud, dust, and other materials away from open areas where particles and debris can upset sensitive persons.
If you’re repairing or constructing a healthcare facility or school, the work itself will likely take place while the property is actively in use or in an area where other occupants are in close proximity. The type of products you choose are important because you’ll want to minimize fumes, noise, and inconveniences that may disturb occupants.
Low-slope roofing is an area of construction that sometimes causes occupant discomfort, as traditional low-slope roofing installation methods utilize hot-mopped asphalt or torch welding, creating noxious fumes. It can also create additional safety challenges for workers having to handle and work around open flame and vats of boiling-hot asphalt.
Self-adhered roofing materials can deliver the protection of traditional roof systems for a fraction of the labor and time – all without the odors, hassles, or additional safety risks of conventional systems.
Reducing noise is also important, as prolonged exposure to high levels of noise can cause permanent hearing loss. Loud noise can also reduce worker productivity and contribute to workplace accidents by making it more difficult to heed warnings.
Employing acoustic screening at workstations, using boring tools rather than pile drivers, and investing in newer, noise-reducing power tools are inexpensive ways to protect the hearing and safety of both workers and occupants.
Create a Culture of Safety
Crew members are in the best position to recognize safety and health concerns that could impact workers or building occupants. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends creating a safety reporting program that encourages workers to report safety and health concerns promptly so employers can address problems before they become accidents.
OSHA also recommends establishing a simple process for workers to report injuries, illnesses, close calls/near misses, hazards, and other safety and health concerns anonymously and without fear of reprisals. Employers should respond to reports promptly, communicating back to workers routinely and often about actions taken in response to their concerns.
Workers sometimes feel pressured not to report incidents out of fear of delaying the project and causing the employer to lose money. Therefore, it is important to empower all workers to initiate or request a temporary suspension of work on activities they believe are unsafe. At every level, workers should be involved in finding solutions to reported issues. Crew leaders can lead by example by practicing safe behaviors and making safety a part of their daily conversations with workers.
In a post-COVID-19 world, schools, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities will be held to a higher standard of safety and cleanliness by patients and parents, which is why it is more important than ever for contractors to be mindful of their workspaces so that everyone’s safety is taken into account.