by Tom O’Connor
We are living in unprecedented times, in which much of the nation was locked down for the past several months. This is, of course, to curb the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
While most nonessential workers have stayed home during the pandemic, many construction and electrical workers, including linemen and wiremen, remained on duty. These workers are taking extra precautions in the form of additional sanitation procedures and personal protective equipment (PPE), which has been challenging. As the rest of the nation slowly began to reopen, the threat of COVID-19 has not completely dissipated. Therefore, workers need to continue to take these precautions to protect themselves and others.
First, workers must continue to practice social distancing whenever possible. This means that individuals maintain a minimum distance of 6 feet apart. Employers should also limit the number of workers allowed to work in small areas. This may include elevators, trailers and vehicles.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends construction industry workers wear cloth face coverings in public environments where other social distancing measures aren’t possible. According to the CDC, cloth face coverings may prevent people who don’t know they have the virus from transmitting it to others.
As the weather gets hotter, wearing face masks and coverings may become uncomfortable. Masks that tie on enable the wearer to adjust tightness, which improves comfort. If possible, use face coverings made from a breathable fabric such as 100% cotton or T-shirt fabric. Also, be aware that filters can make masks hotter. If workers are able, they should bring extra face coverings to swap out if the original gets too sweaty.
If moisture builds up under the mask, it can irritate the skin. Wash your face and then use a moisturizer after you remove the mask.
Workers who wear glasses and safety goggles may find cloth face coverings cause the glasses to fog up. To create a fog barrier, AARP advises washing glasses with soapy water and allowing them to air-dry.
Shared tools, machines, vehicles and other equipment, handrails, ladders, doorknobs, portable toilets and other surfaces that are frequently touched should be cleaned and disinfected at the start of every shift and between each use.
When hands are washed regularly with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds or with 60% alcohol-based sanitizer, gloves do not need to be worn. Hands should be cleaned before and after work shifts and breaks; after blowing one’s nose, coughing or sneezing; after using the restroom; before eating and before and after preparing food; after touching objects that have been handled by co-workers, such as tools and equipment; before putting on and after taking off work gloves; and after putting on, touching or removing cloth face coverings.
Workers should avoid touching eyes, noses and mouths because COVID-19 spreads by those membranes after coming into contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. The virus is also communicable through airborne droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. As a result, it is important to use tissues after coughing, sneezing or touching the face. Used tissues should be disposed of in a trash receptacle.
In the event that a worker becomes sick or exhibits symptoms, they should notify their supervisor and stay home. The CDC recommends not returning to work until a 14-day isolation period is completed, in consultation with healthcare providers and state/local health departments. Similarly, workers should notify a supervisor if a family member gets sick.
Employers should have a COVID-19 response plan to protect workers and follow the CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers. Small construction businesses should review the CDC small business guidelines. According to the CDC COVID-19 Guidance for Construction, employers should conduct a hazard assessment on job sites and provide their employees with the necessary PPE.
During the hazard assessment, hot spots and protective measures in various jurisdictions should factor into the equation at service call locations, as well. For example, are there mask or glove requirements for that area? Additionally, employers should consider prescreening for employees returning to work. This may occur in the form of temperature checks to determine if individuals are running a fever and provide or make periodic COVID-19 tests available to workers.
Older individuals and people with underlying medical conditions may be at higher risk for complications from COVID-19. Employers should minimize face-to-face contact for these employees or assign work tasks that allow them to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from all other people.
Finally, employers must consult with and abide by all relevant state, local and federal health officials and regulations pertaining to COVID-19. They also need to provide the appropriate training to employees on preventative measures required by these jurisdictions.
Hopefully this information has been helpful in providing greater understanding for safely participating in the re-opening of enterprise and work activities in this country. If you would like more information, visit www.cdc.gov or www.osha.gov.