COVID-19 and Construction

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Your email inbox has likely been flooded with sincere emails signed by CEOs, CMOs, and other executives of the companies you routinely patronize, whether it’s the pet store, your favorite Italian place, or the airline you’ve got the most loyalty points with – everyone has something to say about coronavirus, or COVID-19. It’s great to hear about their plans for increased cleanliness: sanitizing common spaces more frequently, providing employee training to conduct such cleaning, and even sharing photos or videos of how said cleaning is done.

Coronavirus Illustration | Photo: CDC

OSHA has some great guidance available here, however their site is NOT optimized for mobile devices. This has caused some issues with people being unable to see OSHA’s guidance on the recordability of coronavirus if it is work-related. The blue call-out box below is not accessible on mobile devices when you visit OSHA’s COVID-19 landing page:

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OSHA’s COVID-19 Guidance

OSHA’s latest publication, Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, offers about 30 pages of content that is separated into guidance for employers with workers with low, medium, and high risk of COVID-19 exposure. Medium risk is defined by OSHA as “jobs include those that require frequent and/or close contact with (i.e., within 6 feet of) other people who may be infected with SARS-CoV-2.” One could approach their jobsite as if it is categorized as medium risk, however, this is not likely the correct category for your typical construction site.

The OSHA guidance provides examples of impact a COVID-19 outbreak could have on your jobsite, including: absenteeism, change in patterns of commerce, and interrupted supply/delivery. Since the first news of coronavirus, the latter has been the most visual impact at jobsites, especially on sites where particulate respirators (“dust masks”) are frequently used. At the time of this blog post (10:17pm CST on Thursday March 12, 2020 to be exact), N95 masks are either out of stock or the price is severely inflated on Amazon. Your favorite local warehouse of PPE is likely still out of stock as well. If your workers have a need for N95s, you have already had to deal with interrupted supply/delivery!

Absenteeism may become a larger issue as more school districts are opting to cancel classes, start spring break early, extend spring break, or at least limit programming like after school activities. This is causing families to scramble for child care, changing schedules on the fly to accommodate earlier pickup times, and that’s just for families with more than one parental figure in the picture. For single parent households, or blended households in which an immunocompromised family member may live, there is increased stress with the daily balance of work and school priorities that are difficult on a day where there are no disease outbreaks in the world. Consider adopting more flexible leave policies at this time, or at least checking in with workers who appear to be stressed, or aren’t appearing at all – showing up late or leaving early.

The OSHA guidance goes on to honor the hierarchy of controls and offer engineering, administrative, work practice, and PPE controls for all employers before providing specific guidance for employers with high, medium, and low exposure risk.

Just the Facts

OSHA has pandemic resources available, including this Fact Sheet, which is perfect to share with supervisors and post at work sites. The Fact Sheet may be from 2014, but it has the same guidance you are hearing every day related to COVID-19 including social distancing, good hygiene, disinfection procedures, and providing updated pandemic-related communications.

On a construction site, some of these guidelines may play out in the following ways:

  • Post reminders for workers to keep 3′ to 6′ away from each other. On a construction site, many of us carry measuring tapes and can easily check this. I’m joking about that last part…but not kidding! Social distancing works because COVID-19 is spread via exhaled virus-containing droplets from infected persons.
  • Daily crew huddles, tailgate meetings, and toolbox talks can encourage social distancing by relaying visual information via text message or printed materials. I’ve given plenty of tailgate meetings to know that maintaining social distancing is NOT a problem! Often, even when telling workers to “gather ’round,” the closest people seem to get is 10′ away from whoever is speaking, and about 3′ away from the nearest coworker. Again, I’m joking…but not kidding.
  • Remind workers to wash their hands before eating, drinking, or smoking; and after using the bathroom. Some of you have really fancy jobsites with running water, soap, and single-use towels – please, stop bragging! Most jobsites have a combination of foot pump activated sinks with soap that is sometimes full and the single-use towels are hit or miss. In these cases, contact the rental company that provides the facilities, and request that soap and towels be refilled. For those working at sites without these facilities, it’s the portapotty and hand sanitizer combination – ensure the hand sanitizer is filled, and it is a good idea to keep your own stash as well. If you get a chance to leave the site for snacks or a supply run, never miss a chance to use a real bathroom with running water, soap, and single-use towels!
  • Maintain cleaning supplies like bottles of household cleaners and disinfectants that are on the list of EPA-registered disinfectants or pre-moistened and disposable cleaning wipes. These supplies should be available for ready use near bathrooms and common areas, i.e.: that big conference table that is used for EVERYTHING at a jobsite (lunch, planning meetings, etc).
  • If drinking water is provided in a commonly used container, either stop providing it and provide bottled water instead, or clean and sanitize the water jug or cooler frequently by following the manufacturer’s instructions.

These precautions will become part of our norms after coronavirus becomes a thing of the past. Workers and the public will become accustomed to the increased cleaning and sanitizing procedures, and it will be expected to uphold these procedures and improve upon them to prevent spread of the usual viruses, and viruses of the future.

For more info and updates

If you’ve read this far, you deserve some more resources! Here’s my now daily go-to sites and two podcasts that have recently provided some excellent information. The COVID-19 situation is changing daily so it’s important to bookmark these sites or subscribe to their updates.

OSHA COVID-19 landing page

CDC Coronavirus landing page

World Health Organization (WHO) Coronavirus landing page

University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Response and Policy (CIDRAP)

CIDRAP’s Michael Osterholm on Joe Rogan podcast 3/10/2020

Deborah Roy – What Employers Need to Know About Coronavirus podcast 3/11/2020

Fisher Phillips FAQ page for employers – updated consistently

I wrote this white paper what seems like months ago, and it contains several links to more resources you may find useful as well. Please share with others if you find value.

2020.02.27 Coronavirus white paper AF

Stay safe and healthy out there, and if you’re actually in need of toilet paper this week, I hope you find some!

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