Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do business in the construction industry. After months of no work due to the pandemic lockdown, construction workers across the country are happy to return to some sense of normalcy. Still, the way we do business is quite different from what it used to be.
So, what has changed? How can construction workers keep themselves and their clients safe? What new workplace requirements have been put in place? What steps need to be taken to avoid penalties from the CDC and local health department? Let’s look at the new job site safety practices used in the construction industry in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 and the Construction Industry
Organizations such as the Construction Industry Safety Coalition and Occupational Safety and Occupational Safety and Health Administration have provided essential safety recommendations in response to the global pandemic. These enhanced measures ensure the safety of construction employers, employees, and contractors from exposure to COVID-19. As with any industry, maintaining physical distance, frequent hand washing and sanitization, and wearing proper face and eye protection are encouraged. However, you can take some additional measures to ensure the safety of your job site and everyone present.
Using the Hayward Score, increasing indoor ventilation, and managing dust are two additional recommendations construction companies can take to improve safety precautions. The Hayward Score is an online tool that measures the impact a home has on residents’ health. After reviewing publicly-available scientific research and expert recommendations, the Hayward Score provides additional guidance to minimize the risk of exposure in indoor residential spaces. This is an excellent tool for construction experts looking to keep their job sites safe.
Since research shows that COVID-19 can be spread through aerosol transmission, increasing ventilation for indoor construction job sites is essential. The Hayward Score recommends construction contractors increase ventilation to greater than five air changes per house. Additionally, improving dust removal methods is recommended since COVID-19 bacteria can attach to larger dust particles.
How to Effectively Increase Job Site Ventilation to Reduce the Risk of COVID-19 Exposure
If you want to effectively increase job site ventilation, as mentioned above, it’s vital to put your workspace under negative pressure and effectively separate the workspace from occupied areas of the building you’re working on. For example, cracking a window and adding a fan that’s ducted to the outside in each room can work on some sites. Other sites require high-grade air scrubbers with HEPA filters to provide negative pressure and proper filtration.
You should also consider adding a HEPA-filtered job site vacuum to minimize dust. Since brooms and standard vacuums can recirculate dust particles, it is recommended not to use these methods of dust removal at this time.
How Can I Slow the Spread of COVID-19 as a Construction Worker?
Since the most common sources of exposure include close contact with coworkers or other individuals with COVID-19 and touching your nose, mouth, or eyes after touching contaminated surfaces, you should take the following actions to slow the spread of the virus at your job site:
- Stay home and notify your supervisor if you have symptoms.
- Follow the CDC’s recommended steps if you are sick.
- Follow CDC’s recommended precautions if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or have a family member sick at home with the virus.
- Limit close contact with others by maintaining at least 6 feet distance, when possible.
- Limit the number of workers in small workspace areas. This includes elevators, trailers, vehicles, and small construction spaces.
- Wear cloth face coverings in public settings where it is difficult to maintain your distance.
- Frequently clean and disinfect high-touch surface areas. This includes shared tools, machines, vehicles, handrails, ladders, doorknobs, portable toilets, and other equipment.
- Limit tool sharing if possible. Clean tools at the beginning and end of every shift and before and after each use if shared.
- Practice proper hand hygiene. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
What Steps Can Employers Take to Limit COVID-19 Exposure?
As a construction employer, you should have a COVID-19 response plan in place to protect your workers and clients. Follow the CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers. Share this plan with your coworkers and subcontractors. Take the following steps to ensure your job site safety:
Stop the Spread of COVID Among Workers
Take the following steps to reduce the spread of the virus among your employees:
- Encourage employees to stay home if they are sick.
- Make sure those diagnosed with COVID-19 meet the criteria to return to work.
- Provide employees with accurate information about COVID-19, how it spreads, and common risks of exposure.
- Implement specific policies to minimize face-to-face contact for high-risk employees.
- Provide training to employees on proper handwashing practices and other routine preventative measures.
- Provide access to soap, clean running water, and material for drying hands. If soap and water aren’t available, provide a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
- When applicable, install accessible temporary handwashing stations. Provide a large bucket with a lid and tap for handwashing on sites with no direct access to running water. Make sure to provide fresh, clean water daily.
- Make sure you have ample handwashing stations to accommodate the workforce and maintain social distance at each site. Be sure all stations are restocked throughout the day.
Maintain a Healthy Work Environment
You also need to take steps to maintain a healthy job site. This includes:
- Take extra steps to increase the distance between employees. This can include:
- Modifying work schedules to stagger work, offer alternating workdays, or add extra shifts to reduce the number of employees on a job site at once.
- Restrict access to enclosed or confined areas.
- Rearrange workstations to keep workers at least six feet apart.
- Install shields or barriers where social distance isn’t possible.
- Remove or rearrange chairs and tables to create visual reminders of maintaining distance.
- Disinfect break and lunchroom areas.
- Cancel or postpone in-person meetings and training when possible. Spread out the distance at meetings or use virtual meetings as an alternative.
- Conduct regular hazard assessments to identify and resolve hazard issues.
- Provide personal protective equipment when applicable.
- Add informational posters throughout your job sites to encourage safety precautions, discuss the signs and symptoms of COVID-10, and offer hygiene and safety guidelines and tips.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched areas regularly throughout the day.
- Provide disposable disinfectant wipes to wipe down surfaces.
Healthy Business Operations
Finally, you should do your best to maintain healthy business operations. This includes:
- Designating a safety and health officer at every job site. Make sure all employees know who this person is and how to contact them.
- Implement flexible sick leave and supportive policies and practices.
- Provide contact information on who employees should notify if they become sick. This person should also be responsible for informing fellow employees of possible COVID-19 exposure.
- Establish ongoing communication with your local public health officials to access vital information before and during local outbreaks.
Hire a Construction Company That Follows Safe Job Site Practices
If you want to help protect yourself and stop the spread of COVID-19, it’s essential to hire or work with a construction company that takes suitable precautions to stay safe. At Keen Construction, we pride ourselves on maintaining the most effective job site practices to prioritize safety on all levels. Contact us today to plan your next project and discuss the steps we’ll take to keep you safe during construction.