How Construction is Adapting to Social Distancing
On a normal day at a jobsite, workers labor side by side with each other. Contractors, health and safety crew members, and other tradespeople, all working closely together to get the job done. But with the onset of COVID-19, now is a very different time – one that calls for stringent measures to keep these workers apart.
For several weeks now, construction sites all over the world have had to practice social distancing between their workers in order to comply with government guidelines. Smaller businesses may still be adjusting and struggling with where to begin, while others may have already implemented basics across several sites and are looking to expand your safety measures. Below is a guide to help you ensure the safety of all workers, no matter the size of your jobsite.
The Current U.S. Construction Industry
Currently, 30 states have defined construction activities as essential, while a total of 45 others declared orders limiting construction activity. However, this is changing rapidly in many areas as more places move to open construction again.
To help prevent transmission on active job sites, the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) has outlined its COVID-19 Basic Infection Prevention Measures as follows:
- Stay home if you are sick. DO NOT WORK
- Wash hands frequently or provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 70% alcohol
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Practice social distancing — try to maintain 6 feet between each worker
- Reduce the size of any group at any one time to ten (10) people or fewer or LIMIT all in-person meetings
- Minimize ridesharing. While in vehicle, employees must ensure adequate ventilation
- Avoid sharing tools with co-workers
- Clean and disinfect frequently used tools, equipment, and frequently touched surfaces (door handles, handrails, machinery controls, cell phones, tablets) on a regular basis
- If N95 respirator masks are not available, minimize dust and airborne contaminants by using engineering and work practice controls
- Use proper personal protective equipment (PPE) when cleaning and disinfecting, such as gloves and eye protection
In addition to this, some construction companies are also increasing their cleaning and sanitation crews, formulating their own cleaning solutions, and employing specialized health care teams to screen workers’ temperatures to ensure they are staying safe and vigilant.
While the following protocols and guidelines were originally released by The Canadian Construction Association, many are also being enforced in the United States. These preventative measures cover access to and from construction sites, cleaning protocols, site operation, compartmentalization on site, and limiting or removing internal touch point areas.
Construction Site and Trailer Cleaning Protocols
- Disinfect all door handles, ladders, railings, switches, eating surfaces, shared tools and equipment, taps, toilets, and personal workstation areas
- The addition of handwashing stations, with posted handwashing protocol, hand sanitizer stations, and disinfectant wiping products, at site entries, exits, washrooms, eating areas, offices, and any other areas with commonly touched surfaces
- Commonly touched surfaces on vehicles and equipment are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected at the end of shifts and between users
Construction Site Operation
- The number of in-person meetings is minimized. If required, meetings should involve only necessary individuals and include six people or fewer
- The worksite is rearranged to reduce high-traffic areas and allow for the minimum physical distancing
- Site teams are encouraged to put forward split/alternating shifts to avoid intermingling. Voluntary shift offset and implementing time gaps between shifts are highly encouraged
- The construction site is to be segregated to the extent possible in zones or other methods to keep different crews/trades physically separated at all times
- Eating is restricted to clearly identified eating areas with handwashing stations, cleaning and disinfectant materials, and adequate space to maintain minimum physical distancing
- Upper limits are put on the number of people allowed in each zone and in facilities like washrooms, trailers, and eating areas at once to allow for the recommended minimum physical distancing
- One-way staircases are established wherever practical to minimize worker contact
- Freight elevators are operated/occupied by only one individual at a time or where feasible
In addition, the Canadian Construction Association recommends that workers wear gloves whenever possible on the worksite, and are responsible for cleaning and disinfecting their own workstations. Upon entry to the construction site, individuals must confirm that they are not exhibiting any flu-like symptoms, have not travelled internationally within the past 14 days, or have not been in contact with someone with a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 to the best of their knowledge.
See the full list of protocols and guidelines from the Canadian Construction Association.
New Digital Tools to Connect Virtually on Site
There are a variety of digital tools that construction companies are implementing in order to keep workers informed and safe, and keep jobs moving efficiently. Truebeck Construction, a company with several locations in the U.S., has turned its daily in-person briefings into digital ones by recording them in video format. This way, employees can view them before coming to work and it allows for more time spent working on the job site. Other companies have chosen to conduct all internal meetings online through email, video, or teleconference so people still receive important information, but in the safety and comfort of their own respective spaces.
New and Emerging Technologies to Help Social Distancing Become Second Nature
Another interesting device coming onto the market this spring/summer is Halo, a wearable wristband created by Proxxi, which sends vibrations to notify workers when they are in close proximity (six feet) of each other. Meant to remind workers to maintain social distancing, Halo offers all-day protection, you don’t need a smartphone to set up or operate, and it doesn’t acquire personal information or track location.
Each Halo band has an ID number that can be assigned to a particular worker. Through the interface, managers will be able to see all bands and ID numbers, and the record of interactions and given band has had with other bands. This helps managers to see which ones have been in contact and how many times they’ve been triggered. In the case of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, this information can be used to trace which workers may have been in close contact to the patient. These bands are set to be ready in mid-May.
Working in a New Normal
As the construction industry remains an essential service in some parts of the U.S. and across Canada, ensuring jobsite safety and the health of workers has never been more important. Through social distancing, preventative measures and protocols, and embracing digital tools and new technologies – we’re all learning how to work within this new normal. Each day is another opportunity to be safer, work smarter, and stay united in working towards a brighter future.