COVID-19 and Construction: Best Practices For Construction Site Safety

In any construction project, the health and safety of construction workers are among the primary concerns of all construction business owners. 

 

Planning a project will always involve an assessment of work hazards that can jeopardize the safety of contractors, suppliers, and third parties on the construction site. Many of these risks are always present and known by all project participants. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration lists falling, being struck by objects, being electrocuted, and getting caught in between equipment as the hazards responsible for more than half of worker fatalities and injuries in construction. 

 

Most construction companies are well-equipped to deal with these risks. With proper training and personal protective equipment, contractors are able to minimize and even entirely eliminate these risks. However, the rising threat of the COVID-19 pandemic is a new thing that construction site managers need to address. 

 

Lawmakers are not as clear as construction business owners want them to be regarding whether or not to keep construction sites open amid the coronavirus outbreak. While the Department of Homeland Security includes construction contractors in their list of critical infrastructure workers, this is advisory in nature. They defer to individual jurisdictions to add or subtract from the list as they deem necessary. 

 

In states where construction sites are to remain open, it is important that construction business owners and project managers take the necessary precautions and preparations as swiftly as possible. All businesses and employers need to do their part in containing the spread of the disease. Here are some of the best practices on construction sites amid the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

1. Implementing a business continuity plan

While you may already have a business continuity plan in place, the COVID-19 situation makes it necessary to revisit and adjust it to fit the current circumstances. This plan will help prepare your organization for the possibility of an outbreak of COVID-19 in the ranks of your employees. 

 

COVID-19 will affect your finances so you need to prepare for its inevitable impact. With the slowdown in the flow of supplies and the payment issues that have affected the industry for so long, it is crucial that you stay on top of your financial needs and obligations to ensure the continuity of the business. 

 

The business continuity plan should also have a list of things that employees, subcontractors, and suppliers need to do, or not do, as the pandemic continues. Include safety measures that construction site personnel should observe while they are on the premises. There should be an emphasis on social distancing, proper disinfection, and staying away from work even when they have a mild sickness. Finally, be sure to enable remote work if possible and address leave arrangements if there is a suspected case of COVID-19 on the construction site. 

2. Protecting employees from infection

As of this writing, there is no vaccine yet for COVID-19. Currently, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid exposure to the virus. Construction companies need to enact preventative measures to reduce the risk of employees getting infected. Here are a few of the things construction companies must do:

 

  • Instruct employees to wash their hands frequently using soap and water for 20 seconds or more. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers with 60 to 95% alcohol should also be present as an alternative.
  • Encourage employees to conduct routine environmental cleaning of their work stations and common areas as well as their tools and heavy equipment controls.
  • Brief employees, subcontractors, and other relevant personnel regarding the symptoms of COVID-19. Tell them about the protocol in your business continuity plan that those with a mild cough or low-grade fever should stay at home. 
  • If remote working is feasible, allow workers to work from home to prevent overcrowding in the workplace. For those that will need to work on the site, you need to promote social distancing. 
  • Give employees disposable wipes that they can use on frequently used surfaces. In addition, provide trash bins lined with plastic bags so they can be easily cleaned without any contact with potentially contaminated objects.

 

Protective masks and respirators are sometimes needed on construction sites. But as for the use of masks to prevent COVID-19, healthy people are not recommended to wear one. Masks are reserved for healthcare workers and individuals that show symptoms. 

3. Disseminate the right information

Taking the steps to protect employees from infection can be effective only if they are properly communicated to employees. That is why it is important to use every means necessary to disseminate the right and updated information to construction site workers. For instance, you may put up posters that instruct employees about the proper way to wash hands, the right way to cough and sneeze, and the use of personal protective equipment in the workplace. Employees must also be told to and stay home when sick.

 

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis situation is changing rapidly and a lot of workplaces will struggle to keep up. The legislation and regulations that govern construction sites need to be updated to fit the current situation. As the pandemic reaches its peak, keep your knowledge of the COVID-19 situation up to date and follow the advice of authoritative sources.

 

About the Author:

Aki Merced is the Content Manager at Handle.com, where they build software that helps contractors, subcontractors, and material suppliers with late payments. Handle.com also provides funding for construction businesses in the form of invoice factoring, material supply trade credit, and mechanics lien purchasing.