Maintaining COVID-19-free employees, construction projects and job sites is critical. Companies are implementing safety protocols such as requiring masks, prescreening questionnaires and physical distancing on-site and in offices to keep their employees and others safe.
The challenge is staying up-to-date with the changing nature of the pandemic, and what is being deemed safe.
“The biggest hurdle for us has been the constant updates and changes that are occurring,” said Chris Carrasco, director of risk management at B&D Industries Inc., a construction and management firm based in New Mexico that specializes in electrical, plumbing, technologies and HVAC systems. “First, you had the self-quarantine for 14 days, then you needed to have a test that was negative, then you needed to have back-to-back tests that were negative within 24 hours. The rules change and you’ve got to be flexible and change with them.”
“They didn't teach us this in a textbook,” said Shayne Stevens, corporate director of safety at Rosendin Electric, San Jose, Calif., one of the country’s largest electrical contractors. “For all of us, it’s been a constant process of evaluating processes and procedures. We’ve done many revisions.”
Marty Rouse, vice president of safety at Rosendin Electric, worries about misinformation. The company decided to implement face coverings before a lot of other contractors and owners did so.
“We made the decision that it was the best thing for us to do to provide a safe environment,” he said. “It definitely starts with leadership supporting these efforts and guiding us in this direction.”
The guidance and recommendations change so frequently, and Carrasco said that what was valid yesterday isn’t necessarily accurate today.
“When we change a process or procedure, we’re letting [employees} know it’s in their best interest and for their health,” Stevens said. “If somebody shows symptoms, if we have any doubts, we ask our employees to quarantine.”
B&D Industries is working to keep its employees as updated as possible through email announcements, Facebook posts, YouTube videos and signage on-site. Rosendin Electric has added COVID-19 awareness and procedures in its supervisor training and new-hire orientation.
B&D Industries provides sanitizing spray for tools and masks for all of its employees. The company also holds weekly safety meetings to encourage employees to remain focused and check in on their mental states.
Rosendin Electric is taking note of suggestions that come back from the field, such as using a Power Breezer misting fan to spray disinfectant to help clean warehouses or prefab areas and adding additional sanitation stations at job sites.
Maintaining physical separation on-site is an important new requirement.
“We’ve implemented a social-distancing officer, somebody to monitor it,” Stevens said.
“It’s become a normal practice now,” said Ray Barber, labor productivity/safety manager at B&D Industries. “If they have to work with more than one person within that 6-foot safe zone, they’re wearing gloves, a mask and face shield. And it’s documented on their daily tasks that they have to work that way, recognizing during the start of the job what’s required.”
Some tasks that require people to work in close proximity include installing and hanging conduit, cable pulling and energizing electrical equipment.
“Sometimes it’s actually a safety requirement for them to be close during a job,” said Clinton Beall, B&D Industries’ owner and senior vice president.
To encourage social distancing for those working in the office, B&D Industries implemented split work schedules and encourages remote work, while no more than 50% of staff are allowed in each Rosendin Electric office location.
“Our company’s flexibility and nimbleness to work from home has really helped us through this,” Beall said. “Over the last several years, we’ve had flexible work schedules in the office and allowed folks to work from home. We’ve been using WebEx and Zoom for years, and 90% of our employees had laptops instead of towers.”
B&D’s IT department bought webcams so the company could continue meeting “face to face.”
Another new safety protocol Rosendin Electric employs is prescreening questionnaires, while some job sites also require temperature scanning. The questionnaire includes four essential questions:
- Have you or any person you’ve been in close contact with shown symptoms or been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last 14 days?
- Have you returned from a country designated by the CDC as high-risk?
- Have you experienced any cold or flu-like symptoms in the last seven days, including a fever reading greater than 100.4, cough, sore throat, respiratory illness or difficulty breathing?
- Do you or a person you’ve been in close contact with have a pending or positive COVID-19 test within the last 14 days?
The questionnaire is now a part of every morning safety check-in and posted in Rosendin Electric’s office lobbies, said Julie Moss, the company’s director of human resources.
B&D Industries also requires employees to screen themselves before they come to work, for the safety of everybody at the job site.
“Prescreening is key to getting them back on-site,” Carrasco said.
If an employee has been on furlough for more than a week or working from home, then they also need to complete the questionnaire.
With a larger number of people working from home during the pandemic, the jobs have shifted as well.
“We’re doing a lot more residential service jobs, HVAC, plumbing, electrical systems,” Beall said. “We made sure all of our service trucks were outfitted with gloves, masks and booties for their shoes, so no one surface is being touched, from start to finish.”
The industry has been seeing COVID-19 cases pop up when employees leave work, interact with others off-site and return to work.
“It’s not anything they would contract on-site,” Stevens explained. “We’re trying to mitigate them bringing it to work and spreading it.”
Safety must remain a priority, with states and jurisdictions in various phases of reopening.
“We feel like the construction industry is setting an example,” Rouse said. “We’ve been very successful working on our extensive projects through this pandemic. Every decision that we make is always in the best interest of our employees and for them and their families. We believe that if you come to work at Rosendin and follow the procedures our team has put in place that you can successfully work on projects and go home without contacting COVID-19. We can provide that safe environment for folks.”
“If they don’t want to follow these guidelines to keep their employees and contractors safe, then they’re not allowed to access the job site,” Moss said. “We think this is essential. And it will be deemed essential for however long it takes.”