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How to Keep Construction Workers Safe in the Pandemic

Posted by Paul Gross on Nov 13, 2020

The construction industry has a lot to contend with in protecting construction workers. The pandemic has only exacerbated this. A new report from The University of Texas at Austin titled “COVID-19 in Austin, Texas: Epidemiological Assessment of Construction Work” provides valuable insights. It states keeping jobsites open without taking the recommended safety precautions could increase construction workers’ chances of hospitalization by eight times.

While the report looks at the Austin metropolitan area, it can apply to other locations according to a Construction Dive article by Jenn Goodman.

“Many have offered anecdotal evidence about the potential danger of keeping sites operational, but the university’s study is the first to quantify these risks, Adler told the Austin American-Statesman,” Goodman writes.

The researchers review different scenarios including the number of workers on a site and contact intensity levels. The report states construction jobsites have “double the transmission risk of a typical workplace” due to the nature of the job or the concentration of construction workers on jobsites. Putting processes in place to lower transmission risk on construction sites could “mitigate but not eliminate the risk.”

It’s a stark reminder to stay vigilant about updating, implementing, and following safety protocols.

Zero Tolerance Campaign

Construction leaders agree that safety is the top priority. After all, it only takes one person. One mistake. “One person operating unsafely on one job site threatens the lives and livelihood of the entire industry,” says the Zero Tolerance Campaign website.

Union Contractors have created the Zero Tolerance Campaign. Companies have signed the pledge to show their commitment to make COVID-19 safety their number-one priority.

This involves communicating, educating, implementing, and enforcing stringent safety standards for every construction worker and employee on every job. Implementing the recommendations from the campaign can help avoid shutting down a jobsite.

The campaign urges construction employers to implement the following:

  • Communicate clear job site safety expectations to everyone.
  • Maintain 6 ft. social distancing at all times.
  • Stop the project if you can’t follow guidelines.
  • Implement the Zero Tolerance Policy with zero tolerance for violations.
  • Enforce all rules.

Employees may complain this is too strict. Remind them of the alternative. You don’t want to shut down the jobsite. You don’t want to delay the project. You don’t want to miss deadlines. Every step every employee takes to follow protocol helps the company limit economic fallout.

You can download a social media toolkit, poster, and logo to help spread the message of the #ZeroTolerance Safety First Campaign.

Developing COVID-19 Jobsite Protocol

CEO Mark Breslin of the California union association, United Contractors, tells Construction Dive that members handle $35 billion in projects every year. All of them are dedicated to having COVID-19 construction site protocol.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published recommendations to help construction workers protect themselves and slow the spread of COVID-19. These guidelines can inform your COVID-19 jobsite process.

CDC recommends all employers create, implement, and update a COVID-19 preparedness, response, and control plan that’s specific to construction. This should list all areas and tasks with potential exposure to the coronavirus and steps to take to eliminate or lower exposures.

Involve your employees in the process of creating the protocol. It gives them a voice and a sense of ownership. They’ll be more likely to follow the plan.

Here are the elements to include in a COVID-19 preparedness plan to help you prevent and reduce transmission.

1. Require employees with symptoms to say home

Create and publish a list of symptoms. The list should be posted around the construction site and in the company’s employee communications. Construction workers should be able to easily find them whether they’re at home or on the construction site. Indicate that if they have any one of the symptoms, they are to notify their supervisor and stay home.

Sick or symptomatic employees should remain at home and follow CDC steps on what to do when you’re sick. They should not return to work until they meet the criteria to exit quarantine with input from medical professionals.

If an employee is well and has a family member diagnosed with COVID-19, they should follow recommendations for those taking care of someone.

2. Conduct daily in-person or virtual health checks

If you opt for in-person health checks, it’s critical to create a process to ensure everyone’s safety. Employers can set up partitions or barriers and maintain social distancing. Another option is to have the screeners wear personal protective equipment (PPE). CDC advises to not rely solely on PPE because it’s more challenging to implement with PPE shortages and lack of training.

If an employee on the construction site has symptoms, immediately distance the employee from everyone and send the employee home. Develop a protocol for safely transporting a sick or symptomatic employee home or to a healthcare provider.

3. Follow guidelines when an onsite employee may have been exposed

The good news is that in most cases, you won’t need to shut down the jobsite.

Anytime an employee calls to report symptoms or a positive test, determine where and how workers may have been exposed to the employee on the construction site. Start with hazard identification and assessment and apply the hierarchy of controls to implement the most effective controls to prevent exposure.

4. Educate employees on protecting themselves and the process

All these guidelines and plans won’t do any good if employees don’t know what to do. You not only want to train employees on the protocol for the jobsite, but also what they should do at home. They could do everything right on the construction site, but it takes one mistake at home and they could bring the illness with them to work.

Don’t assume employees know all the recommended steps to take in protecting themselves and their families. If employees rely on public transportation or ridesharing to commute to work, the CDC recommends the following:

  • Offer incentives to limit contact with others, if feasible.
  • Allow employees to change hours to avoid commuting in rush hour, if possible.
  • Set up a station so employees can clean their hands upon arrival on the site.

This is not the time for assumptions. Overcommunicating is better than under communicating.

How Video Surveillance Helps Ensure Construction Workers Follow COVID-19 Protocol

In the everyday hustle and bustle, people forget things. They forget the rules. Hanging up the Zero Tolerance Campaign posters will help remind everyone to stay cautious. Remote video surveillance can provide the peace of mind needed. It can be used as a way to protect the construction site and employees.

Construction workers and management can’t have eyes on the entire property and potential safety hazards. Video monitoring helps improve safety and productivity. Trained monitoring operators using analytics-based surveillance cameras watch the construction site. They can help spot safety hazards. As soon as a safety concern pops up, they can contact the onsite manager.

Remote video surveillance also helps deter crime. Some trespassers leave as soon as they see the video cameras, but not all of them are easily deterred. Operators watching your cameras from a different location can help catch trespassers and stop them before damage occurs.

For extra support, video monitoring can come with an audio deterrent. This allows the operator watching your cameras to activate audio speakers to warn the trespasser. In some cases, it’s enough to send them scurrying away.

Most video surveillance services come with recording and archiving of footage. This can help reduce fraud and property liability on a construction site. If an incident occurs on the construction site, analysts can review the footage to find proof of what happened. This can help prevent or win expensive liability lawsuits.

Managers can use video monitoring to conduct training showing employees the safest way to do tasks. Video monitoring can increase construction site efficiency. The trained operators work with management to identify opportunities to improve the workflow, traffic, and safety processes.

Remote video monitoring can also reduce or eliminate the need for construction site security guards. The entire monitoring system and the service cost up to 60 percent less than what it would cost to pay security guards plus their benefits.

To learn more about construction security, get your free guide to securing your construction site. Our construction security specialists can customize a security plan for your construction site. To find out what the possibilities are for yours, contact us.