Protecting the Health of All Personnel on Individual Project Sites from COVID-19
While many industries experienced complete shutdowns recently, a significant number of construction projects were deemed essential. All workers, supervisors, and safety professionals on these projects need to stay updated on COVID-19 best practices and develop specific health and safety procedures for each job site to protect workers and their families.
The Importance of Physical Distancing
Everyone must understand that droplets from coughing, sneezing, and talking, can travel up to 27 feet away. If they contain the virus, it can remain active on tools, doorknobs, and counters for several hours. Because some people are asymptomatic, and the virus takes up to 14 days to incubate, many transmit it without knowing.
Delegating Tasks – Can a single individual handle the job? If not, what type of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will ensure the safety of all employees? A safe way to assess this is by taking photos of the specific circumstances with a tablet or smartphone. Send them by e-mail or text message to trained personnel to determine the number of employees and supplies needed.
Monitoring the Site – Use trained personnel to check for proper social distancing. Choose to monitor site activity directly, via web or security cameras, or by drones on larger sites.
Scheduling Issues – Work schedules can be modified by alternating or dedicating shifts and workdays to reduce the number of employees on a site. Nonessential personnel can work from home whenever possible. Break times should be scheduled to minimize general interactions.
Employee Behavior – Employees must avoid any physical greetings like handshakes. To park a safe distance from each other, extra parking may be necessary. Discourage ridesharing and use of public transit. Every other seat should separate bussed workers.
Meetings and Conferences – Whenever possible, perform meetings online or via conference call. Any necessary in-person sessions must follow CDC guidance and be limited to groups of 10 people or less. Ensure everyone is at least 6 feet apart and use spray paint to mark locations where they can stand safely. Consider employing mobile technology systems to provide alerts with photos and video conversations on hazards and safety planning.
Controlling Site Access
The number of visitors to job sites should be limited and access controlled by fencing, guard stations, modular turnstiles, and no-contact card readers. All entrants must be screened with touchless thermometers or thermal imaging cameras.
Identify and limit workers’ potential to gather, including personnel in material hoists, aerial lifts, and site trailers. Assess possible chokepoints, construct barriers, and post signs restricting access to closed or confined spaces with maximum occupancy limits.
Community break areas should be eliminated, and appliances for coffee, water, and cooking removed.
Deliveries to the site should be carefully planned. Have specific delivery laydown areas with painted lines and barriers for distancing and defined trash areas.
Fleet Managers must minimize the number of vehicles shared by employees to limit the spread of the virus between users. While drivers are exempt from the 14-day quarantine requirements for business purposes, they must diligently self-monitor for a mild cough or low-grade fever (37.3 C or more) and when sick, self-isolate and stay home. They must monitor their health before and after every trip. When off duty, drivers must comply with social distancing and stay-at-home orders.
Personnel are required to remain in their vehicles when possible and avoid direct contact with site workers. Each driver will have access to best practices, and understand social distancing requirements, keeping interactions as short as possible. Drivers must use appropriate disinfectants, hand sanitizers, PPE, and other material needed to clean high-touch surfaces in their trucks. They are required to dispose of soiled cleaning materials in a separate trash bag.
Encourage and cooperate with company leadership to invest in additional safety personnel on job sites that will protect both workers and their families. Management must adopt a zero-tolerance policy for working while sick, and have workers stay home and self-quarantine.
All supervisors and safety personnel should be aware of COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. Create a COVID-19 observation form or electronic health verification form for daily completion.
Ask the following:
- Have they been in contact with anyone who is ill in the last 14 days?
- Has anyone in their family been tested for COVID-19?
- Have they been around anyone who traveled internationally or domestically to an area listed as a level 3 risk by the CDC?
- Have they had a fever or other COVID-19 symptoms in the last 72 hours?
If possible, have a 24/7 nurse screening triage for all workers, including subcontractors. Otherwise, have a trained employee monitor for signs of illness. Have hand and boot sanitation checks to provide indicators of compliance.
Consider workers’ mental health. Being aware of current health risks and the impacts on their households can create stress. Ask employees how they are feeling and inquire about their families, and recognize those workers following protocols to protect themselves and their peers. Create a program to increase awareness and compliance, and offer a free self-care assessment from the Red Cross.
Safety personnel, supervisors, and contractors should discuss COVID-19 best practices, such as:
- proper distancing guidelines
- actions to take when exhibiting symptoms or suspecting another worker might be sick
- approved disinfectants for cleaning
- details about when workers with symptoms can return to work
Hold a company-wide meeting to ensure that everyone is receiving the same message simultaneously. It may be better to develop a video about COVID-19 safety requirements and distribute it digitally for employees to watch at home. Verify completion through online forms.
Posters displaying COVID-19 symptoms, procedures, and hygiene details can be placed at site entrances, break areas, job boards, elevators, hoists, and portable toilets. Post information about the federal Relief and Economic Security Act and Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Coronavirus Aid. Be sure information is available in other languages spoken by workers.
Ensure employees are aware that they should follow any government stay-at-home orders and practice social distancing during daily activities when they are not at work.
Increase ventilation in close areas, elevators, material hoists, or stair towers. Physical barriers and plastic sheets can protect workers in dusty operations, and water trucks can help control it. Use sticky mats at entry and exit locations, changing them frequently. Make shoe sanitation tubs with nonbleach sanitizer a requirement before entering or leaving the job site.
Sanitation and Hygiene
Have a regular cleaning and sanitation schedule to wipe down frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, handrails, latches, and locks. Employees should address smartphones, computers, tablets, keyboards, and pens before and after use. Sanitize deliveries before being used, and gear knobs and door handles on delivery vehicles should also be cleaned. Methods may include foggers and UV sanitation.
Create handwashing stations with soap and water and hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol. Workers must have regularly cleaned portable toilets and should avoid sitting directly on the seat by using toilet paper as seat covers.
All individuals must keep track of their water bottles as community water supplies or coolers must be removed. Gloves are mandatory and should be worn at all times. Those who work in close quarters with others may also need to wear gaiters, face shields, goggles, masks, long-sleeved shirts, and pants. Discuss decontamination and sanitizing their clothes daily.
As of March 17, 2020, the CDC is not recommending that workers wear N95 masks. Instead, they should be donated to healthcare providers.
Tools and Equipment
Shared tools should be avoided, and each should be cleaned regularly. Shared equipment, including vehicles, should be disinfected before and after each use. Users of vehicles and tools should wash their hands, clean tools using mild soap or an approved diluted bleach solution, and rotate the use of tool inventory every three days.
If blood or other bodily fluids are present on the tool or other equipment, follow the established bloodborne pathogen protocols.
For the foreseeable future, workers, supervisors, and OSH professionals on all essential construction projects and related logistics for deliveries must follow best practices to protect everyone from exposure to COVID-19.
Sources and Downloadable Resources:
Canadian Red Cross, First Aid for the Mind, https://www.redcross.ca/selfcare/
Health Canada Website, Hard-surface disinfectants and hand sanitizers (COVID-19), https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/disinfectants/covid-19.html
PSJ PROFESSIONAL SAFETY, 2020 assp.org, Hollingsworth, J., 2020. Construction Safety Practices for COVID-19, https://www.assp.org/docs/default-source/psj-articles/bphollingsworth_0620.pdf
Transport Canada, Federal safety guidance to protect drivers and limit the spread of COVID-19 in commercial vehicle operations, http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/motorvehiclesafety/federal-safety-guidance-protect-drivers-limit-spread-covid-19-commercial-vehicle-operations.html