Builders’ guide to managing COVID-19

There’s still a lot we don’t know about coronavirus. Here’s what we do know about keeping workplaces safe
Social distancing is an effective way to limit the spread of COVID-19. (Photo: Dimitri Karastelev, Dreamstime)

The American Society of Safety Professionals hosted a webinar on Wednesday addressing workplace concerns over coronavirus. ASSP President-Elect Deborah Roy, a former occupational health nurse, took questions from safety professionals about how the virus could impact workplaces in various industries.

[Related: Look to the margins to improve safety for all: ASSP]

Following are some of questions Roy addressed that are relevant to the construction industry.

How serious is the virus?

Roy pointed out that over 80% of people who get this virus have mild symptoms. Since people aren’t compelled to stay in bed and recover, it’s transmitted very easily. If a vaccine is developed, it won’t be available to the public for at least 18 months, so the virus will continue to circulate, she said.

COVID-19 presents a high-level risk for a small number of people, but Roy noted that younger people are also dying from this virus.

“Right now, there is a risk to the general population because we don’t know necessarily who would have a low level of symptoms versus a high level,” she said.

What proactive steps can employers take to reduce the risk of the virus spreading?

COVID-19 is spread through droplets when sick people cough or sneeze.

“In the workplace, what we want to do is social distance as much as possible,” Roy said. Sales and design teams who can work from home should be allowed to do so. On teams where people can’t work from home, splitting shifts so there are fewer people in a workspace at one time and prioritizing telephone and electronic communications can help workers keep a safe distance from each other.

Should builders provide or require N95 masks to be worn on jobsites?

Maintaining distances of six feet between workers may be more effective than masks, especially as shortages make masks hard to come by.

“The better choice is social distancing,” Roy said, “and at the same time, have people use proper hygiene … and clean high-touch surfaces.”

Should workers refrain from sharing tools or using the same equipment? 

Early, nonpeer-reviewed research indicates the virus may live on plastic or stainless steel surfaces for up to three days, Roy said. It may live on cardboard up to 24 hours, or up to four hours on copper.

It’s not clear that the virus can survive being transmitted from that surface to a person, Roy said, adding that temperature and humidity may also impact those times.

She said that typical EPA-recommended cleaners with 70% alcohol are sufficient to kill the virus on surfaces within a minute.

What should employers do if they have workers who test positive?

Removing sick workers as quickly as possible is key, Roy said. “Once they’re home, they can check in with their doctor by phone and address the issue. Then it’s really up to the health care provider to determine at this point whether or not they get tested, not the employer.”

Danielle Andrus

Danielle Andrus was previously the managing editor for Colorado Builder, and is currently Editor for the Journal of Financial Planning.

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