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With the nation gripped by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Americans across the country have been ordered by their state and local officials to close nonessential businesses and shelter in place. So, while restaurants, bars and gyms have shut their doors, sectors that have been deemed critical infrastructure, including food and agriculture, water management, health care and transportation to name a few, have continued to operate. Under the discretion of state guidance, construction and utility industries have remained operational to support critical infrastructure sectors through repairs and maintenance. 

Some officials such as New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo have taken steps to limit which areas of construction might be deemed essential, stating that only “a project necessary to protect the health and safety of the occupants or to continue a project if it would be unsafe to allow it to remain undone until it is safe to shut down the site” may remain operational during this time. Other states, such as California, have kept all construction projects in place, regardless of whether the work directly impacts a critical infrastructure sector or not.

Construction site managers and workers onsite of those ongoing projects should take steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect overall safety.

Risks Posed to Construction Workers 

Depending on the location and site specifics, the best way to prevent on-the-job exposure and contraction of COVID-19 is to reduce and avoid exposure to the virus in the first instance. However, with construction employees often working in close proximity with shared equipment and limited resources to adequately sanitize their workspace, extra steps are necessary to ensure a safe working environment. 

Best Practices for Workers to Stay Safe Amid COVID-19

All employers and workers need to be mindful of guidelines issued by Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and governing health bodies within their states in order to take proper precautions and stay safe. As COVID-19 is transmitted from person to person, workers on essential construction sites should avoid close contact with other people and maintain a safe working distance of six feet. Employers should stagger breaks to ensure employees are not in close quarters at the same time and take steps to reduce areas where people typically gather, such as elevators or entry and exit points. 

No individual should shake hands as a greeting and must avoid unnecessary close contact at all times. Make sure to wash hands for at least 20 seconds before entering and exiting the workspace, as well as at regular intervals throughout the day to prevent the spread of infection. If possible, disinfect all contact surfaces before beginning work and regularly throughout the day, such as equipment, light switches, doorknobs, tables and work phones. 

Finally, it is extremely important to keep faces and mouths covered. The CDC recommends every individual should wear a face mask to protect the spread of germs and potential infection to others. Employees should not share personal protective equipment if possible. Hats, gloves, visors and any PPE that could come into contact with the mouth or nose should be kept to individual use. PPE must be cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis. 

If PPE, antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer are not readily available to workers on the construction site, the employer should provide these items to help maintain a safe work environment.

According to the CDC, if an employee becomes ill during the working day, they should report those symptoms as soon as possible to the site manager and be sent home to recuperate. All surfaces and equipment in their workspace should be disinfected. Employers should also keep records of individuals who were in contact with or close proximity of the ill employee; those individuals should be notified, considered exposed and appropriate precautions should be taken to prevent the spread of infection in accordance with the CDC’s interim guidelines for critical infrastructure workers. 

Due to the volume of information being shared among organizations, it is important to stay up-to-date on best practices to prevent the spread of infection and monitor for industry-wide guidelines. Employers and workers should regularly monitor the CDC recommendations, as well as anticipate updates to the National Disease Emergency Response Agreement. 

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