How Social Distancing Works on a Construction Site Read Time: 6 min
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, construction projects around the world are left looking for ways to restart or keep projects going while keeping workers safe.
With many projects experiencing logistic delays or reopening after shut downs, managers are also looking for solutions in expediting processes to catch up on original deadlines as well as maintain an effective work pace on the job site once reopened.
Now that we know construction will carry on, what will that look like in a COVID-19 world?
How do you carry on the necessary work that requires in-person action?
We look at what’s needed and what effective social distancing practices look like on a construction job site:
Your first step: Form a clear plan of action.
The first step towards returning or continuing work is setting forth a clear plan on the new way your workers will be required to operate on the job site.
Construction sites need to plan for:
- Safety training that can be done remotely, before entering the job site.
- Worker screening to reduce sick workers entering the job site.
- Education and enforcement of social distancing protocols
- Education and enforcement of handwashing, sanitizing, and other hygienic practices.
- A record of who is on the job site and when. In the event of a worker contracting COVID-19, these records will be utilized to inform those who may have come into contact with that person.
Planning for the above doesn’t need to be guesswork. Below, we break down key factors in keeping your job site safe, detailing resources and advice on how to best prepare and enforce social distancing on the construction site.
Safety training that can be done remotely, before entering the job site:
Brendan O’Sullivan, general secretary of the Builders and Allied Trades Union (BATU), said:
“Our members are craft workers, using timber and stone and bricks and blocks. You can’t put the roof of a house on when you’re at home. You can’t build a wall at home and then bring it into work. It’s just not going to work.”
It’s obvious that trade workers cannot do their work from home, but there are some aspects of their day, such as site safety training, that can be completed offsite, at home, away from others.
Details provided to workers can include company policies, procedures, culture, working environment, and health and safety measures. Another benefit? When workers complete safety training online, they can learn at their own pace from an isolated location.
Online orientation and orientation solutions are now the leading way for sites to implement social distance and safety training before workers enter the job site.
Having the right technology, systems and process in place has rapidly moved from being an efficiency hack to an essential resource for business survival.
When workers are trained about safety and social distancing on-site, they can’t be expected to know all of the rules when they arrive and standards are unlikely to be met straight away.
Effective social distancing practices should also be included in your online orientation.
But what if safety training absolutely needs to be done on the job site? What is the best way to manage on-site training if absolutely necessary?
If on-site training is still required in any area, as few workers as possible should be involved. This may mean splitting the team into groups that can still adhere to the 2m or 6ft social distancing rule.
This means training may have to be repeated, but safety needs to remain top priority, ahead of saving time. If training on-site is absolutely required, it should be held outside in an open space if possible.
Where to implement staggered entry and break-times:
In small eating areas, break times should be staggered so they won’t be full of people. Also, make it clear that staff members need to sit 2m/6ft apart in the designated eating area/canteen.
Time needs to be staggered for use of any showers and/or changing facilities as well.
When working hours are also staggered there are less people entering and exiting the site at any time. Sites need to provide enough exits and entrances to allow for social distancing rules.
It is also vital that these points are well monitored so that it’s impossible for anyone unqualified to get onto site.
Mange parking facilities and transportation:
It needs to be made clear to everyone that friends and family are no longer allowed on site. If someone is getting picked up, someone should be waiting for them in an off-site parking area.
If people usually travel to work on public transport, but now feel that this is unsafe they might decide to drive to work. If car parking facilities can be improved to hold more spaces, this is a big benefit. It might encourage more workers to stay away from public transport and reduce the risks of contracting the virus.
Get comfortable with more email communication:
If workers can no longer do their job, they should still be able to contact someone by email if they have any questions to ask.
The company should also keep workers up to date with any news updates or changes that have or are likely to occur. Managers need to make the effort to contact them and even engage where necessary, e.g. whether they’re finding this new form of communication successful and feel safe coming to work on the job site.
Make it clear to workers that they shouldn’t come on-site to ask a question or find out information if it’s possible to do so by email. Explain that this is for their own personal health and safety, to reduce physical interaction.
It might be time to improve your access control:
Popular site security methods and access control can quickly turn into a COVID hotspot if not appropriately cleaned after repeated use.
Think about how many people are coming on and off a construction site. Entrance and exits are high traffic areas, with access control solutions frequently touched. Any area of the project that is handled often or requires physical verification by staff security boosts your physical interactions and, therefore, risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19.
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Remind, remind, remind workers to wash hands:
Workers should always wash hands before they start work. Remember, this should be for at least 20 seconds.
Keep common areas clean:
When using common areas such as break areas or toilets, establish site guidelines. Allow appropriate time and space to facilitate the correct levels of hygiene and social distancing. Require workers to be respectful of these boundaries.
Shared areas should implement social distancing. This means there may be longer wait times to use specific areas. Remind workers to wait patiently and that we’re all in this together.
Encourage workers to bring a packed meal to reduce the risk of transmission at heavily used appliances eg. Microwave, coffee pot etc.
Ensure workers to thoroughly wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before entering and after leaving any break or lunch areas. Ask workers to follow the recommended social distancing in these areas.
Tools and Equipment
It is essential to be vigilant of sources of contamination. Tools and equipment should not be shared where possible. Always keep tools and equipment clean and ask workers not to share unless sanitized when using site vehicles and mobile plant excavators, dump trucks, etc.
Touchpoints should be regularly wiped down. When changing drivers, require cleaning of touchpoints before and after.
Outside of work:
When offsite, please be respectful of the local community. Avoid gathering in groups and follow social distance rules. Respect local businesses and be aware of their social distancing practices.
If smoking, ask workers to maintain a 2m or 6ft distance. Keep in mind that smoking enhances your chance of transmission. Ask workers to wash hands before smoking and advise them to use caution when applying alcohol hand sanitizer immediately before lighting their cigarette, as many workers have reported burning their skin this way.
Regularly touched surfaces that should be kept clean:
Handrails, tables, desks, chairs, doorknobs, light switches, handles, phones, keyboards, toilets, taps & sinks should be cleaned often, throughout the day.
When going home:
What about entering and exiting the job site? Here’s what’s recommended when you’re arriving and leaving work:
- PPE must remain onsite
- It is recommended that your clothes are washed daily.
- Wash your hands before you leave
- Travel alone if possible by walking, cycling, by car or van.
- Wash your hands when you return home, change your clothes and leave your boots outside
There are many risks associated with working in close proximity to others during this time. Safety has always been a top priority for the construction industry, but now it’s more important than ever. The health and safety of our families and communities, locally and globally, are at risk when social distancing practices are not enforced or implemented.
Turn this blog post into a PowerPoint you can use for your safety training. Click to download our COVID-19 safety training slides/pdf here.
A lot of these recommendations are common sense. Ask your workers to act in good faith, abide by guidelines, and practice safety to the highest degree. Our goal is to keep the industry safe and get back to the work that builds our world.
If you’d like to learn more about how GoContractor can help keep your job site safe for COVID-19, click here.