Managing COVID-19 on jobsites: CPWR

A new normal means new challenges for builders and contractors trying to protect workers from falls, heat and now a pandemic
Masks and social distancing are de rigueur on jobsites. (Photo: Olena Hromova, Dreamstime)

As the pandemic stretches on through the summer, builders and contractors are discovering measures designed to protect workers from COVID-19 may add other burdens. The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) hosted a webinar on Thursday outlining some of the additional challenges that are popping up as we all deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Face coverings and masks

Some contractors may find that the face masks workers are required to wear to limit the spread of COVID-19 contribute to heat-related illnesses on jobsites.

Jane Beaudry, senior HSE manager for Jacobs, said she’s seen water misters put up in break areas on jobsites, and Cindy DePrater, senior vice president and chief health and safety executive for Turner Construction, said her company is encouraging workers to take breaks every 45 minutes. Turner has also published guidelines for contractors about equipment with anti-fog properties.

Rodd Weber, corporate safety director for the PENTA Building Group, said that his company covers heat-related illnesses in toolbox talks and safety huddles, and has even posted color charts in portable toilets to help workers tell whether they’re likely dehydrated.

He pointed out that empathy is a valuable skill to help managers remember what workers are going through. Some managers have handed out popsicles during breaks, and the company has provided CamelBaks so workers can have access to water all day long.

“We’re finding that’s a good way to break the edge a little,” he said.

He said the NIOSH Heat Index app has also been helpful to crew leaders planning their day.

Weber said his company is looking into opportunities to use plastic shields instead of cloth coverings when workers are more than six feet apart. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance on face shields notes that they are primarily to prevent the disease being spread by droplets coming in contact with the eyes. CDC is clear that there’s not enough research to support face shields as an alternative to masks, but that when wearing a mask is out of the question, hooded shields that wrap around the side of the face and extend below the chin are more effective than other types of shields. The agency recommends that people who use face shields wash their hands before and after putting them on, and disinfect reusable shields after each use.

Bob Kunz, corporate safety director of Dimeo Construction Company, said that when the pandemic first started and PPE was hard to come by, his office team was using bandanas with face shields in lieu of masks.

“It becomes more of a redundancy, so if someone’s mask should become displaced, there’s a face shield on the other side,” he explained.

Beaudry added that when workers are in close proximity to each other, such as in an aerial lift, they “feel a little bit more comfortable [when they] have a face shield on in addition to the mask.”

She said that Jacobs is not differentiating between indoor or outdoor work when requiring workers to wear masks. DePrater agreed, adding that people who are working in close proximity for more than 10 minutes have to have a minimum of a KN95 mask with padded goggles that block droplets from the eye area.

“We have what we call ‘Vader masks,'” she said, which workers wear over a KN95. “It’s a combination of a goggle with a small face shield. It looks like a paintball type mask, but it’s really effective and it’s fog resistant.”

Getting on the same page

Weber pointed out that “residential construction is typically a multiemployer worksite.” That can present a challenge when different employers have different standards for workers.

“We have standard documentation that we send out to the subcontractors in advance that basically outlines our safety program to them, and the fact that they’re contractually obligated to follow the program, or have a program that either meets or exceeds our program,” he explained.

PENTA also has risk mitigation officers whose only job is to “educate, monitor and enforce the COVID regulations that we’ve established,” Weber said.

Kunz said that many tool manufacturers are releasing guidance on the best way to disinfect their products, and said that Dimeo has dedicated cleaners to sanitize high-touch areas repeatedly throughout the day, but that workers are expected to do their part. 

“We’ll take care of the high touch common areas, and the expectation is they’re going to take care of their work areas and tools,” he said.

DePrater encouraged contractors to document their efforts.

“Don’t forget when you’re doing all of this to inspect and document, because we don’t know where the worker’s comp claims are going to be coming from down the road,” she said.

She added that contractors and builders should plan now for how they will keep people safe when the weather gets colder.

“We’re starting to plan ahead now for the fall and the winter. Not only do you have COVID, but you’ve got the flu. How are you going to keep the air movement going? How are you going to clean? What are you going to disinfect?”

Danielle Andrus

Danielle Andrus is the managing editor of Colorado Builder. She can be reached at [email protected].

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