How to Keep Construction Workers Safe Amid COVID-19 Virus Fears

It’s a real dilemma in the construction industry right now. Some projects must move forward despite COVID-19—but there are lots of challenges involved in keeping these projects running while also keeping workers safe. Construction is one industry where social distancing practices can be difficult to follow given the nature of the work.

Just look at the example of working on high rises in Boston. Workers may need to use an exterior elevator to ride to the floor in which they’re working on, and to carry supplies and tools up to that floor. That means either the elevators are crowded with lots of people along with building materials and gear, or there are delays as labor organizers arrange elevator trips to maintain social distancing policies.

Of course, worker safety is paramount, so changes will be implemented to help keep the labor force safe. And, in fact, we’ve already seen quite a few changes on jobsites. If you’re looking for more information, here are some of the safety policies people are already observing along with procedures to expect in the future.

Respirators are Key

This has been one of the larger challenges that the construction industry has faced. Now and in the future, workers need to be wearing N95 respirators to help protect against viral outbreaks—but supplies are short as these respirators are needed for healthcare workers on the front lines of the disease fight. Even so, construction managers need to do the best they can to provide respirators for their workforce. They’re important not only to protect against COVID-19 transmission, but also to protect workers against jobsite dust and debris. Silica dust and other toxic particulates are common construction hazards that workers need to guard against.

How Some Construction Job Sites are Following Social Distancing Policies

Because construction is such a hands-on industry, social distancing has been difficult to follow. It’s not always easy to maintain proper 6-foot distancing between employees when multiple sets of hands might be required to carry things or work on some part of a project together. But contractors everywhere are making it happen one way or another. It has to happen because social distancing is one of the primary ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

One innovative way that construction contractors are tackling this issue? Wearable technology! For instance, right now, a company called Triax Technologies is making a wearable monitoring tag that connects with all other tags on a jobsite. These tags help enforce social distancing by alerting employees when they draw too close together.

What’s interesting about these tags is that they could be something we see more on the jobsite even after the pandemic has passed. The tags are also capable of locating employees or notifying people when a worker experiences a sudden fall or some other workplace mishap.

Scheduling Adjustments Can Keep Workers Safe

Another way to help keep construction workers safe on the jobsite is to take greater care with shift scheduling so that there are fewer workers working at any given time, thus reducing the chances of exposure. This means taking into account project goals and deadlines, and then planning carefully to make sure that enough workers are onsite to complete the tasks at hand, but the jobsite isn’t so overcrowded that it becomes impossible to maintain social distancing rules.

Sanitation Will Need an Upgrade

Workers should already be wearing masks—and in fact, should have been prior to the pandemic outbreak to protect against dust and particulates. But contractors are also going to need to take greater care to make sure that sanitation is up to the task of keeping laborers safe. This means facilities for handwashing should be available, and managers should opt for things like bottled water instead of shared water coolers on the jobsite. In the event that running water isn’t available, hand sanitizers and other such products should be available so that workers can keep clean throughout the day.

Creating Safety Plans

In Boston specifically, there are new rules in place specifically designed to protect contractors. This is something that Boston’s Mayor Walsh has putting forward. From now on, contactors must create a COVID-19 safety plan in order to keep workers safe on the jobsite. What do these plans entail?

  • They must stipulate how contractors will enforce social distancing policies.
  • They must also outline how contractors will provide sanitation for their workers.
  • Contractors will need to sign affidavits swearing to follow the safety plan—and if they don’t, they’ll be at risk of losing their permits.

Keeping workers safe among COVID-19 fears might mean taking entirely new approaches to construction as a whole. Certainly, there are already changes in place to help keep workers safe—and we can expect to see a revolution in the way contractors approach safety in the future. It’ll be challenging to get used to this new normal, but it’s a worthwhile challenge because worker safety is the most important consideration on any project.