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COVID-19 Tips for Construction Sites

April 1, 2020

A construction site can be seen through the wire mesh of a metal fence, from which a sign hangs that reads "DANGER. Construction Site. Unauthorised persons keep out."

Though construction activity has been deemed essential in many provinces, the industry has also come under fire for failing to protect its workers on site. The reality is that many of us are scrambling to adapt to these unprecedented circumstances. Of course, construction sites present their own unique challenges when it comes to social distancing and cleanliness.

To ensure the health and safety of construction workers during this pandemic, provincial governments, public health officials, and industry associations are rushing to pull together protocols and best practices. There is a lot of good information out there, but it can be overwhelming.

We have pulled together the top tips for protecting construction employees from COVID-19, based on common pointers we are seeing in federal, provincial, and association guidelines. Where guidelines differed, we have opted to share the most stringent recommendations.

Please note that while we have relied heavily on reputable resources, your first step should always be to consult the directives issued by your provincial public health authority.

Background

Regardless of the industry, employers have an obligation to protect their workers from hazards in the workplace. There is no question that COVID-19 safety should be the absolute top priority for every employee on site. Remember: any measures taken on site to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should be done in compliance with local health and safety requirements and associated regulations.

To find the best COVID-19 tips specifically for construction, we looked to our industry associations. One of the resources we consulted was the Canadian Construction Association’s “COVID-19 Standardized Protocols for All Canadian Construction Sites”. Released on March 27th, it contains best practices and recommendations built around three key pillars:

  • Prevention
  • Detection
  • Rapid response

The objectives of these guidelines include:

  • Prioritizing the health and safety of construction site workers and surrounding communities;
  • Applying the recommendations and best practices of federal, provincial and municipal public health authorities to construction site procedures;
  • Establishing and maintaining a common COVID-19 Pandemic Response Plan across construction sites; and
  • Fostering open communication amongst stakeholders and ensuring a respectful work environment.

Working within this framework, with prevention, detection, and rapid response serving as the pillars for any construction site COVID-19 plan, we sourced recommendations from key groups and associations – including, of course, the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) guidelines. Based on those recommendations, we have pulled together the following tips:

Prevention

As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – and given that there is no cure or vaccine for COVID-19, prevention is everything.

Many of the prevention measures being recommended for construction sites are of the variety that apply to all individuals and situations. They’re the common tips being shared widely by governments, public health officials, media, and employers in every industry.

They include well-known hygiene and cleanliness practices, like frequent hand washing, avoiding touching your face, and cleaning frequently touched objects and surfaces. They also cover social distancing measures and recommendations against non-essential travel. While the importance of these measures cannot be overstated, we wanted to focus on the recommendations you may not already know.

When it comes to the tips that are most specific and relevant to construction sites, here is what we have found:

Communication and Enforcement

  • Communicate your commitment to maintaining health and safety measures by posting signage at site entry points. Include daily updates on the latest developments and guidelines from your local public health authorities, as well as self-identification screening tools.
  • Consider appointing a COVID-19 Safety Compliance Officer (CSCO), and making that person responsible for enforcing COVID-19 compliance including social distancing, site cleaning, hand washing and screening. For large sites, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (IBCA) recommends that the CSCO be a full-time role, with costs to be shared between the owner, general contractor and trades.

Hygiene and Cleaning Protocols

  • Implement cleaning protocols for site trailers and other common areas on site. All door handles, railings and personal workstation areas should be wiped down twice a day with a disinfectant.
  • To support sanitary measures, implement the necessary tools and protocols. In a best-case scenario, water stations should be installed on site to enable hand washing. Hand sanitizer and disinfectant products must also be made available.
  • Mandate hand washing upon arrival, before breaks, and at departure. You can work with your CSCO to enforce this.

Compartmentalization and Social Distancing

  • Avoid sharing personal items or supplies such as phones, pens, or hand tools. On construction sites, this includes personal protective equipment (PPE). If it isn’t possible to avoid sharing hand tools, ensure they can be sanitized between uses.
  • Whenever possible, restrict the number of people on site. Segregate the work site as much as you can using zones or other methods to keep different crews or trades physically separated at all times. This promotes social distancing and can help to contain propagation of the novel coronavirus.
  • Establish one-way staircases wherever practical to minimize contact between workers.
  • Restrict the number of occupants for any freight elevators to only one individual at a time. Similarly, limit man hoist capacity to allow social distancing.
  • Workers should avoid working less than two meters from others for prolonged periods of time. If their role requires closer proximity, have them wear face masks and other PPE to mitigate exposure.
  • Limit unnecessary on-site contact between workers and outside service providers. For instance, remove coffee trucks from site.

Site Access and Operations

  • Track the status of all workers on-site and off-site (e.g., fit to work, sick, off-work for family caring duties, etc.). Maintain a private list of all quarantined workers and update it daily.
  • Due to the latency period of COVID-19, it is crucial for employers to track the movements of their employees. If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, the local public health unit will ask employers to provide information on where the employee worked, as well as who else may have been exposed – so maintain a record of that information.
  • Implement staggered start times or alternating shifts for site teams to minimize social interaction. Use staggered work schedules to limit your on-site workforce to “critical numbers”. Schedule time gaps between shifts when possible.
  • Stagger break and lunch schedules to prevent large groups from congregating in common areas.

Other

The ICBA has a few other unique suggestions to help your employees with their social distancing efforts. For instance:

  • You could offer incentives to encourage employees to bring their lunch from home so that they avoid take-out restaurants or food trucks.
  • To assist employees who might typically commute via public transit, consider reimbursing them for parking if they drive to site instead. Better yet, reach out to the municipality to ask about temporarily removing paid parking near the job site.

Do your research on infection prevention and control. The province of Ontario suggests that construction employers contact local public health units if they need more information on workplace prevention and control related to COVID-19 infections. The situation is changing rapidly and new information is communicated often, so stay on top of COVID-19 news by regularly checking public health resources.

Detection

Having measures in place to detect and isolate possible cases of COVID-19 is key in any work environment.

  • The CCA recommends screening workers at construction site entrances to detect any possible cases of COVID-19. Anyone who is not authorized to enter the site as a result should be transported to their preferred location of self-isolation.
  • Though the method of screening may differ from site to site, the ICBA recommends that screening include name and contact information, a wellness check, a verification of COVID-19 site safety knowledge, and a commitment of compliance.

Rapid Response

So what do you do if you have a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 on your construction site? Again, the recommendations here are largely universal: workers exhibiting any symptoms of a respiratory illness must stay home and alert their supervisor or human resources department.

What is unique to construction sites is the recommendation that contractors develop an “integrated continuity plan” in the case of a partial or complete shutdown of construction sites or any severe limitation of site operations due to COVID-19.

If dealing with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 on site, your best bet is always to refer to the Government of Canada Public Health site. It contains the latest information and recommended protocols related to COVID-19.

Put Your People First

Employers within the construction industry are uniquely challenged with the expectation that they continue to provide what has been deemed an “essential service” – all while prioritizing the health and safety of their employees and contractors during a crisis that has virtually shut down many other businesses.

While construction sites have always been subject to strict project schedules and objectives, now is the time to put your people first. Pre-COVID-19 schedules, like many other plans conjured before this pandemic, must be adapted to present circumstances.

We think the ICBA put it best: “Actively reduce the manpower on site to the greatest extent possible and work on only those tasks on the critical path.” Aligning your decisions with that statement is a great first step. Then follow that up with the above recommendations to ensure your site stays safe and compliant.

Looking for more COVID-19 tips for construction sites? Read about our COVID-19 Response and Action Plan and our COVID-19 Committed Supplier designation to see how we’re addressing the coronavirus at Modu-Loc.

Author: Joanna Bieda

Joanna Bieda is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Modu-Loc Fence Rentals, and has been with the company since 2014. She loves writing and is a self-professed data nerd. She thoroughly enjoys teaching customers about all things fence via Modu-Loc's blog.
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