The Oregon Construction and Trades Industry was considered as “essential work” when Oregon Governor Brown issued the Executive Order 20-12 Stay Home, Save Lives on March 23, 2020, one year ago. Because of this designation, industry professionals and stakeholders collaborated to form the Oregon COVID-19 Construction Task Force, bringing state safety and health leaders and regulators together to develop safe procedures and jointly lead voluntary informational walkthroughs at Oregon’s construction projects and workplaces to enhance procedure development. In June, the Institute and Oregon Healthy Workforce Center joined the Task Force and Dede Montgomery, OHSU, attended virtual meetings and offered to develop a webpage on the Institute/OHSU site to house and update resource documents, tips, and safety and health information.
Throughout the pandemic, we have been sharing news about resources available to employers to prevent infection and keep workers healthy. Late in 2020, an online Qualtrics survey was designed to identify the effectiveness and reach of communication resources developed by the Oregon Construction COVID-19 Task Force to Oregon construction workers. The survey was prepared by Montgomery and approved by OHSU Institutional Review Board (IRB). Through this survey, we also hoped to learn what COVID-19 information sources are useful and whether survey respondents implemented resource recommendations. Construction safety leaders and project managers were contacted via email and at virtual construction safety-related meetings, encouraging all Oregon construction workers to take part in the survey. Individual names or identifiable information were not recorded in the 15 question survey. Fifty-six individuals completed the one-time 15 question anonymous survey.
The survey results suggest that the Oregon COVID-19 Task Force provided useful and relevant information for construction sites to address pandemic exposure issues and controls. Construction industry safety professionals and other personnel successfully shared this information within their networks and at their jobsites, including multiemployer sites. The largest percentage of survey respondents identified as safety professionals (53%). The largest percentage of respondents work in commercial construction (57.1%) followed by trade specialty (23.2%). Respondents to the survey, while a small data set, appeared to have both knowledge and interest in effective infection control practices on job sites. Approximately 63% of respondents were familiar with the Oregon COVID-19 Task Force website to varying degrees, and of those, more than half visited the website at least once while 17.4% downloaded or used website resources or shared practices. Of those who had used information provided on the webpage, 45% had shared the information with coworkers, 30% shared the information with their team and implemented the better practices on jobs, 15% used the information to better inform themselves, and 5% viewed it but had not implemented the tips.
When asked to rank order the importance of information sources addressing safe work practices related to the pandemic, Oregon OSHA was ranked as the top pandemic safety information source (41.9% as first, 45.2% as second and 35.5% as third) followed by Oregon Health Authority (22.3% as first source, 29% as second and 9.7% as third) with the Oregon Construction COVID-19 Task Force webpage following as third in importance (16% as first source, 16% as second, 22.6% as third). NIOSH was also recognized as an important source of COVID-19 safety information (receiving 13% as first source, 9.7% as second, and 35% as third).
Oregon construction partners would do well to partner with Oregon OSHA for the release of information on health and safety information, specifically pertaining to COVID-19, and potentially other issues, given the reliance by employers/employees on this statewide regulator for relevant worksite information. Receiving information by email appears to be a preferred method for staying on top of news and tips related to workplace safety and health, although some may utilize phone apps with relevant information if available. Employer size as related to webpage knowledge was not statistically significant nor was trade union membership, although it appears that the larger companies both know about the resource and are following the guidance as compared to the small companies. Additionally, there appears to be some benefit to being a union member and having access to information that non-union members might not be otherwise aware of.
Most helpful practices identified by survey respondents to reduce exposure and infection risk
Note: The following bulleted points came directly from survey respondents while the author, Montgomery, categorized them into like topics (leadership, physical distancing, etc.). These points are listed as responses to the survey and are not necessarily guidance from the Task Force, OHSU, or Oregon OSHA.
- Management leadership and employee participation
- Use 3rd party COVID Marshalls to audit sites with trade leaders
- Consistent communication about requirements and approach to get work done with minimal exposure
- Plan work differently to allow for social distancing (e.g., use non rotating schedules to keep any exposures to small pods of workers)
- Stay home when you may have been exposed
- Re-schedule for more time due to reduced headcount and to allow for social distancing. Phase projects to reduce trade stacking.
Physical distancing and masks
- Specific building entrances, mask wearing, spatial distancing, pre-visit temperature and questionnaire
- Distancing, face coverings, hand washing, site cleaning and disinfection, check-in protocols, training
- Wearing masks and keeping our workers 6′ apart
- Effective use of face coverings, distancing – leading by example; continue to emphasize distancing and masks
- Increased enforcement of wearing masks
- Physically distant workforce inside trailers/break & lunch areas
- Staggered shifts, brought more trailers in for space to hold employees.
- Use technology to substitute for work practices within six feet
- Sanitation and repeated education
- Hand wash stations, gloves, masks, hand sanitizer at all sites.
- Full-time disinfecting crew to wash down all shop and tools and equipment on a continual basis throughout the day.
- Disinfecting frequency and physical distancing
- Continuous cleaning and sanitizing of commonly shared surfaces ( (e.g., forklift behind switch hands)
- Evaluation of students before and during training
- Daily health check before work
Greatest pandemic site needs
- Monitor and coach social distancing
- Expect compliance
- Coach behaviors and deal with misleading information.
- Provide accurate and timely information; stop false information.
- Be consistent and transparent for all at the project site should someone get infected with COVID.
- Create a separation between trades without loosing time on the schedule.
- Consistent messaging from ALL parties (union reps. & subs mgmt especially) as to need for social distancing & mask use. Consistency across all contractors and worksites would be an enormous step in the right direction.
- Compliance and staying vigilant
- To get workers to stay home when they are sick and not come to work
- Buy in from workers to follow PPE/social distancing guidelines.
- Accurate information and employee cooperation
Hazard ID and controls
- Prevention of slips, trips and falls – focusing on them
- Masks make safety glasses fog; antifog safety glasses at a reasonable price.
- Ways to work close to each other for specific tasks, to allow workers to work without mask when needed (e.g., when away from others, glass fogging issues.)
- Working safely while maintaining 6’
- Proper wearing of masks and face covering enforcement
- Scheduling of projects to avoid trade stacking and to allow distancing.
- Use QR code for check in instead of paper.
- Arranging work times for craft to complete work
- Cleaning supplies, PPE
- Final wording on final rule; Leadership from our government; Feel like we have it handled. The recent OR OSHA guideline assessment was a good test.
Other preferable ways to receive info?
- No (many responses)
- Safety professionals regularly stay focused on finding information (e.g., CDC and Harvard/Brown/Johns Hopkins forums)
- No, our Regional Safety Manager keeps informed.
- No, there’s plenty of information already available
- No. I feel that OHA daily emails have provided awesome information on all aspects of the pandemic.
- There is a ton of information flooding in every day. Hard to sift through it all if there was more.
- There are plenty of sources, but finding good, accurate sources is the need.
- I think the information should be released to through the local safety organizations and local unions.
- Email is best/email blasts (many responses)
- I would like industry specific email updates regarding workplace best practices.
- Application for smart phones per region or state
- The OHA daily texts with updates are helpful & consistent.
- More COVID construction related data. Like case rates per 100 employees, etc.
We thank the important work of all partners supporting the Oregon COVID-19 Construction Task Force. For more information contact Dede Montgomery.
Oregon COVID-19 Construction Task Force Webpage