General Contractors have been well versed in implementing safety protocols for decades, particularly those relevant to OSHA CFR 29 Part 1926. Thanks to those efforts, the Construction Industry’s nomenclature includes PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) which includes hardhat, boots, eye protection, hand protection, and respiratory protection for certain activities and conditions. The safety training and enforcement has been a great benefit to construction sites, providing safer workplaces around the country. With COVID-19, however, workplace safety has been given a whole new meaning and construction teams are adjusting to this new reality. Unfortunately, with little more than general recommendations such as providing safe distancing (6-foot in the United States), proper handwashing, posted notices, and removing office personnel from field personnel, there is a lack of training and real implementation in the field. Many of our current construction projects are inadequately managing the risk to the workers, their families, and the companies they work for. With proper training, process implementation, and verification, however, we believe this risk can be mitigated, ensuring healthy workers and continued construction progress. A comprehensive field workplace environmental plan must be implemented on all construction projects, most urgently those with confined spaces. A comprehensive plan includes the following measures:
Site Security & Personnel. Jobsites are visited by varied people who have come in contact with many other people. Subcontractors are only a single component. Temporary Labor, Suppliers, Owner Vendors, Design Teams, and Inspectors can visit a site on any given workday. Notices should be placed to enforce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) protocols which include the CDC guidelines. All visitors, wearing proper PPE, should immediately sign in and sanitize their hands prior to communicating with any trades or others onsite.
Material Handling. Sanitation protocols are critical for shared items such as drawings, hand-held devices, temporary toilets, and temporary office equipment. Workers must have a sanitation station available nearby to adequately clean hands and devices. Segregating clean and dirty items with labeled boxes helps avoid cross contamination. Tools and equipment are often shared as well. A tool handling protocol must be implemented, covering hand-held tools, heavy equipment, and machinery. Deliveries should be planned out so drivers do not enter the project confines, and material offloading standards should include proper hand protection and sanitation measures.
Staging & Sequencing. Staging and sequencing of work is a vital component to any project and careful planning is required when considering COVID-19. To ensure safe distancing is available, materials and handling should be planned out in advance. For those trades which cannot reasonably have safe distancing (due to OSHA or practical requirements), respirators or masks should be employed to provide adequate safety. In some cases, concurrent work may not be possible when several trades are in a confined area.
With a meaningful plan, proper training, effective communication, and follow up inspections, construction field personnel can effectively manage the risk of infection on their project sites. We hope best-practices such as these will be incorporated throughout the construction industry to ensure it continues as an essential service throughout this pandemic.