With the COVID-19 pandemic showing few signs of abating soon, it’s important to shift one’s thinking from “these are the things we have to do” to “this is the way we do things now — and we can work with that.”
A positive approach emphasizes the practical and the doable: how to rethink workplace safety in ways that promote productivity, improve employee engagement, and meet regulatory requirements. A positive approach can also help you make your best case to carriers when renewal time comes around. The key elements of a positive approach are employees, training and site control.
It all starts with employees. Keeping sick employees away from the worksite and other employees is the first line of defense. All employees must take personal responsibility for helping make a safe worksite — from managers to supervisors to everyone coming on to the site. That starts with a daily assessment of whether one is potentially sick with COVID-19. Daily monitoring of all employees, contractors or anyone coming on the worksite. They need to be scanned for temperature and asked, every day, if they have any symptoms. This includes fever, sore throat, cough, body aches or fatigue.
Have they been in contact with family members or other people who have tested positive for COVID-19? Have they travelled lately to high infection areas? Workers with symptoms should be directed to get medical attention and asked to stay off the worksite and avoid contact with other workers. They should also stay away from work until 14 days after they stop feeling symptoms.
Safety training. Be the source of reliable, industry-specific information and safety training for your workforce. The Associated General Contractors of America has training materials and other resources you can rely on. Training is an ongoing process, with formal sessions and structured learning, and also ongoing communication, guidance and reminders. Your workers’ safety is the focus. That way, their buy-in and engagement is more likely because it is in their interest and that of their families.
Training should take the form of frequent “toolbox talks” or “huddles” to first inform, and later to update workers. Have meetings outside or in small groups. Keep a social distance of 6 feet. And always keep in mind that the job is never done. Safety training can be done online but I believe it should be in some form interactive so employees see value in the training.
Keeping the worksite safe. There’s a lot to keep in mind, but here are some highlights:
• Safety meetings should be by telephone or computer, if possible. If safety meetings are conducted in-person, attendance will be collected verbally and the foreman/superintendent will sign-in each attendee. Attendance will not be tracked through passed-around sign-in sheets or mobile devices. During any in-person safety meetings, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people and participants must remain at least 6 feet apart. In Wisconsin there is a mask/face covering requirement so employees inside would be required to wear those.
• Employees must avoid physical contact with others and shall direct co-workers, contractor and visitors to increase personal space to at least 6 feet, where possible. Where work trailers are used, only necessary employees should enter the trailers and all employees should maintain social distancing while inside the trailers.
• Employees will be encouraged to stagger breaks and lunches, if practicable, to reduce the size of any group at any one time to less than 10 people.
• Employees should limit the use of co-workers’ tools and equipment. To the extent tools must be shared, the company will provide alcohol-based wipes to clean tools before and after use. When cleaning tools and equipment, consult manufacturing recommendations for proper cleaning techniques and restrictions.
• The company will divide crews/staff into two groups where possible so that projects can continue working effectively in the event that one of the divided teams is required to quarantine. As part of the division of crews/staff, the company will divide employees into dedicated shifts, at which point employees will remain with their dedicated shifts for the reminder of the project. If there is a legitimate reason for an employee to change shifts, the company will have sole discretion in making that alteration.
• Employees are encouraged to minimize ride sharing. While in vehicles, employees must ensure adequate ventilation.
• In lieu of using a common source of drinking, employees should be provided with personal water bottles.
Conclusion. Every site and organization are different, so it’s crucial to develop and implement a plan based on solid principles, but customized for your organization, workforce, state, climate and other factors. The ACG offers a sample plan for COVID-19 exposure prevention, preparedness and response. This sample plan is a great starting point for developing your own plan. It’s also important to update your plan as conditions, rules, knowledge, etc. change. Communicate often with your workers and remember to ask for their feedback and suggestions. This will only work if they are on board.