Physical distancing in construction: what’s that look like?

In Oregon, unlike our neighbors in Washington, construction was among those industries allowed to stay open when Governor Kate Brown issued our “Stay Home, Save Lives” executive order in March, 2020. And yet, the order required construction – like those businesses allowed to remain open – to follow social-distancing guidelines (more recently referred to as physical distancing) from the Oregon Health Authority. Within Brown’s executive order includes the requirement for business and non-profits with workers not working from home or otherwise teleworking, “to designate an employee or officer to establish, implement, and enforce social-distancing policies, consistent with guidance from the Oregon Health Authority.” Oregon OSHA has created specific guidance for those working in the construction industry.

Current guidance for construction (and other employers) from Oregon OSHA and federal OSHA include these main requirements.

  • Develop an infectious disease and response plan. Some workplaces may have related emergency plans that can be updated or modified to include this, while others may choose to create a plan unique to COVID-19.
  • Implement workplace controls. Continue to use the Hierarchy of Controls basic principles to select appropriate measures to reduce exposure, and to prioritize the use of elimination and engineering controls, supported by training and PPE. Ensure “tunnel vision” doesn’t ignore continued safety practices for those hazards existing in construction such as slips, trips and falls, and hazards related to excavation and trenching, equipment and motor vehicles, among others.
  • Pay specific attention to sanitation and cleanliness. Provide ready access to hand-washing or hand sanitizers, and ensure that frequently touched surfaces are regularly disinfected. (Additional tips from Oregon OSHA, OSHA, and OHA, in the guidance linked above.)
  • Look for new ways to reduce exposure by limiting tool sharing and staggering tasks. The American Industrial Hygiene Association released detailed Back to Work Safely Guidance for a number of industries, including construction.

We are fortunate in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest to have so many construction companies that are leaders in workplace safety and health, with many supporting Total Worker Health. Two of these companies offered to share the photos in this blog as a way to illustrate what physical distancing and exposure controls addressing COVID-19 might look like in construction. I give a huge thank you to Tony Howard, Safety Director, and the team at Hoffman Construction Company, and Bryan Ortiz, Safety Manager, and the team at Kerr Contractors, for sharing their practices with others.

Workplace Controls

Create systems to control the flow of personnel, including one-way staircases and pathways, ensuring daily briefings and training to employees. The social distancing officer’s oversight is necessary to ensure compliance.

 

 

Image credit: Hoffman Construction Company.
Image credit: Hoffman Construction Company.

 

Pre-task planning. Image credit: Hoffman Construction Company.
Pre-task planning, toolbox talk. Image credit: Kerr Contractors.
Pre-task planning, toolbox talk. Image credit: Kerr Contractors.

Sanitation and Cleanliness

Image credit: Hoffman Construction Company.

Don’t neglect what happens during other gatherings, such as lunch, and institute visual controls or marking to provide for physical distancing, training and briefings to all crew members, regularly sanitize surfaces, and provide for hand washing. Again, oversight by your social distancing officer will be necessary to ensure procedures and practices are being followed.

Final Thoughts

As with all new initiatives and challenges, we will continue to learn to create better and safer practices, as we move along in this journey. We thank our partners for sharing your findings, and although the times feel difficult and challenging, we remain thankful to work with such terrific partners, stakeholders, and friends.

Resources:
Oregon OSHA COVID-19 Info for Construction
Federal OSHA: Guidance for Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19
American Industrial Hygiene Association’s Returning to Work Construction Environment

 

 

Image credit: Kerr Contractors.
Image credit: Kerr Contractors.

 

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