Everyday Tips for Returning to Work on Construction Sites

Many employers are preparing to have team members return to worksites as stay-at-home orders and restrictions ease, and here are some safety tips to keep in mind.

Industries around the world, from manufacturing to retail and everything in between, have rapidly changed in the wake of COVID-19. While having employees work from home might have been the “new normal” for the last few months, many employers are preparing to have team members return to worksites as stay-at-home orders and restrictions ease.

There's no one-size-fits-all approach to returning to worksites, and each industry and workspace may require different procedures and protocols. In this article, we’ll look at Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations to help keep construction workforces productive and healthy while implementing increased safety measures. While these guidelines are based on federal standards, it’s important to reference state resources frequently as well, to make sure that all operations are in compliance.

Construction sites can present an interesting array of considerations for employers. What are some ways to limit employee interaction on a job site while still maintaining productivity? How often should employers sanitize equipment? We’ll explore some possible solutions to many questions that employers may have, as well as general best practices.

1. Limit Workers and Practice Social Distancing

When on the job, limiting the number of workers on site is a good first step to help everyone stay healthy. If possible, stagger shifts and adjust schedules so a smaller number of workers are on site at one time. If you require a larger crew for a big job, assign employees to small teams or groups of people that work together each day, and assign each team to one area of the worksite. This can help minimize the spread of germs from group to group and can make it easier to quickly and effectively contact trace in the event that a team member does get sick. In small, enclosed spaces like worksite elevators or personnel lifts, vehicles, trailers and spaces under construction, be sure to limit the number of employees to at least half of the usual allotted number of people to leave enough space for social distancing. It may also be helpful to require employees to wear masks—particularly in these small, enclosed areas where social distancing is difficult.

2. Keep Meetings Brief

While toolbox talks and safety meetings can be used to convey important information like new cleaning practices and safety measures, it’s important to keep them brief to limit face-to-face contact. Try to host meetings outdoors or in a large space that accommodates social distancing of at least six feet between team members. Provide masks for employees to wear, and keep meetings to no more than fifteen minutes, if possible.

If you do not have an ideal meeting location, divide workers into teams headed by supervisors who can relay important information, or otherwise limit the number of workers by having meetings in shifts. If you have high-risk employees who are returning to work, make sure that meetings are limited to ten people or less per CDC guidelines.1

3. Practice CDC-Recommended Cleaning

Cleaning and disinfecting any worksite is vital to maintaining a healthy workforce—and construction sites are no exception. Tools, vehicles, trailers and portable toilets are all high-traffic and high-touch areas that can harbor germs.

Throughout the worksite, supply employees with alcohol-based wipes that can be used to clean tools and equipment, such as power tools, hard hats, belts and safety glasses, after every use. Provide workers with travel-sized hand sanitizers to keep in their pockets and use before and after touching shared surfaces. Also, remind your team members to pay attention to wet times, or the amount of time a disinfectant should sit on a surface, to allow surfaces and items to completely disinfect. This information can often be found on the label or the manufacturer’s website. At a minimum, all tools and equipment should be cleaned before and after every shift and in between usage, particularly if they are shared by multiple team members. Be sure that manufacturer’s recommendations are readily available to reference for proper cleaning techniques and restrictions.

Vehicles and heavy machinery are also high-touch items that can easily be overlooked. Steering wheels, levers, door handles, shift knobs and control panels should be cleaned before and after each operator. Always wear a cloth mask when driving or operating machinery, too, to limit the spread of germs.

Wipe down high-touch areas in trailers, as well, such as light fixtures, desks and chairs, and limit the amount of seating to discourage too many people from congregating in one place. If there is a kitchen, hang signs above the sink detailing proper hand washing techniques.

Portable toilets should be cleaned at the beginning and end of every shift, too. Wipe down the door handle, seat, and restock hand sanitizer, as needed. Since there is no running water at many worksites, consider placing bottles or stands of hand sanitizer around the site to encourage proper and frequent hand hygiene.

4. Consider Daily Temperature Checks and Additional Resources

Help keep employees healthy and safety by considering daily temperature checks at the worksite. Not only will employees have peace of mind, but employers will be able to quickly and accurately identify those who may be showing symptoms of COVID-19. It’s also a good idea to consider performing temperature checks twice per day—once at the beginning of a shift and once during the middle of the workday to ensure employees remain healthy for the duration of the workday. In addition to temperature checks, return-to-work testing is another timely service that can help keep employees safe. Through this service, which can be provided by health care organizations like MedExpress, employees could be tested for COVID-19 prior to returning to the worksite.

While these tips will help healthy members return to work safely, it is best to continue to operate flexibly and consider the ever-changing needs of all employees, including those at high risk or with special considerations. Remain transparent about new worksite changes and prepare employees ahead of time before they return to help them not only feel safer, but also give them a chance to review new procedures accordingly.

REFERENCES

1 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/large-events/mass-gatherings-ready-for-covid-19.html

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