5 Ways To Promote COVID-19 Worker Health & Safety

Hard hat construction worker wearing a mask

Construction worker health and safety have always been a top consideration, but new risks associated with coronavirus have rapidly changed the industry and driven those concerns into overdrive.

How can construction business owners make sure your protocol protects employees? Here are five key steps every construction business should take.

1. Keep tabs on OSHA guidance as it evolves

Coronavirus is an evolving situation, with recommended worker health and safety practices expected to change as medical investigators learn more about the virus and its transmission. 

Fortunately for construction business owners, OSHA has been responsive in sharing resources. The federal agency developed an online repository for coronavirus guidance, which is updated regularly. 

Bookmark it now, and return often.

2. Adhere to state and local regulations

By now, every business owner knows to keep an eye on local regulations with regard to essential business status, mandated closures, phased reopenings and other legal requirements. 

But since coronavirus response varies at the state, county and municipal levels, construction business owners need to pay extra attention to compliance considerations that can be different for each individual job site. Track down government resources and alerts for employers in each specific locale where you have contracted work, and check for updates.

Failure to do so can result in fines, work stoppages and unnecessary risk to the welfare of employees.

3. Work with your staffing partner

OSHA guidance through the Temporary Workers Initiative maintains that construction business owners and their staffing partners hold joint responsibility for the health and safety of temporary employees.

Evaluate your staffing contracts for language regarding each party’s respective compliance responsibilities, and readdress any aspects of shared liability related to evolving coronavirus concerns. 

Your staffing partner can also be a helpful source of guidance and resource materials related to employee safety.

4. Develop and promote your own coronavirus policy

Dedicated employee health and safety programs can help construction business owners maintain safe and compliant job sites during coronavirus. Such programs document adherence to regulations and give workers information on how to navigate site-specific safety challenges.

The following new policies can help reduce the risk of employee exposure to coronavirus: 

  • Encourage workers to stay home if they are sick, and wear a mask over their nose and mouth while on the job. 
  • Advise employees, contractors and visitors to avoid physical contact and maintain at least six feet of personal space wherever possible. 
  • Limit reliance on work trailers to the extent possible, and encourage workers to maintain social distancing while inside the trailers.
  • Encourage respiratory etiquette by covering coughs and sneezes.
  • Promote personal hygiene. If workers do not have immediate access to soap and water for handwashing, provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleaning chemicals.
  • To the extent tools or equipment must be shared, provide and instruct workers to use alcohol-based wipes to clean tools before and after use. When cleaning tools and equipment, workers should consult manufacturer recommendations for proper cleaning techniques and restrictions.
  • Keep in-person meetings (including toolbox talks and safety meetings) as short as possible, limit the number of workers in attendance and use social distancing practices.
  • Clean and disinfect portable jobsite toilets regularly, keep hand sanitizer dispensers filled and disinfect frequently touched surfaces (i.e., door pulls, toilet seats, etc.).

5. Update your regular safety best practices

In addition to the above guidelines for developing new coronavirus safety protocols, business owners should also update their existing employee safety best practices.

Consider the following:

  • Adding coronavirus protocol to your pre-site onboarding and safety awareness training, with updates to all material provided to workers and contractors.
  • Emphasizing any special coronavirus implications when conducting a pre-job safety analysis for each job on a project.
  • Building items related to coronavirus mitigation into your site survey checklist.
  • Addressing any tasks that may involve risk of coronavirus transmission when communicating the daily goals and activities on site. 
  • Including coronavirus procedures in all safety meetings and toolbox talks related to shared activities such as fall prevention, tool use or equipment protocol. 
  • Recognizing and communicating any necessary coronavirus-related changes to respiratory protocols necessitated by hazardous materials.
  • Updating existing PPE guidance to reflect coronavirus regulations.
  • Incorporating coronavirus concerns into on site injury reporting protocol and record keeping, and encouraging workers to identify safety and health concerns such as emerging job site hazards, unsafe conditions, close calls/near misses, and actual incidents. By encouraging reporting and following up promptly on all reports, employers can address issues before someone gets hurt or becomes ill.  
  • Making sure to address disinfection as an additional step in all training related to job site housekeeping and cleanliness procedures. 

Most of all, construction business owners need to recognize that coronavirus is a serious threat to employee wellbeing in the workplace and beyond, and commit to properly addressing safety concerns as a team effort. 

We’re all going through this together.