Maintaining Health and Safety

Follow this checklist of best practices to remain healthy in this new normal.

By Alexandra Walsh

Even though most construction companies have remained open during COVID-19 under critical infrastructure, construction projects have implemented unique solutions to adapt and manage worker health as communities open up.

Construction firms, like water well drilling companies, have adapted risk management frameworks used to control high-risk work activities and shift that same mindset and framework to the health-related risks of COVID-19.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) has compiled best practices for construction-related industries to help maintain occupational health and safety best practices at the worksite.

The AIHA suggests, at a minimum, construction companies and vendors should continually monitor global World Health Organization (WHO), federal (Centers for Disease Control), state, and local guidelines for changes in recommendations, disinfection strategies, worker protections, and other best management practices.

Employers should also consider developing a team of professionals to monitor, assess, and implement new strategies as they become available.

In addition, employers should consider following strategies for reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission in regards to physical distancing, ventilation, enhanced cleaning practices, restrooms, gathering areas, and contact surfaces, as well as personal hygiene, employee wellness, personal protective equipment (COVID-related protective equipment should include face coverings/masks and/or face shields for close contact activities, regular work gloves) training, waste and laundering, and communication.

The New Normal

If not already in place, the AIHA recommends construction-related companies implement this checklist of best practices.

  • Develop a response plan for communicating COVID-19 disease facts and updates.
  • Complete a task-based risk assessment/mapping of the company headquarters as well as any well drilling project site to determine best strategies for social distancing of at least 6 feet, and ensure employees have face coverings.
  • Reduce the number of individuals at the site to essential staff to complete the work. Temporary spaces (site/job trailers) should be cleaned and disinfected daily.
  • Consider wearable technology such as proximity devices worn on hard hats or wrist bands, to monitor employee physical distancing and tracing of contacts.
  • For close contact activities that cannot adjust for physical distancing, consider providing enhanced PPE or a face shield with a face covering while fully considering all the potential OSHA requirements.
  • Do not let anyone symptomatic onto the worksite. Work with your health providers for support and guidance.
  • Reduce tasks requiring large amounts of people to be in one area.
  • Limit meetings to 10 people or less. Encourage employees to use virtual meeting tools such as TEAMS, VTC, or WebEx in lieu of in-person meetings whenever possible.
  • Project teams should clean and disinfect their shared workstations and equipment after use.
  • Eliminate non-essential visits, such as job tours, equipment demos, etc.
  • Maintain a daily approved-visitor log that includes the date, time, and contact information of any visitors in case there is a need for contact tracing.
  • Ensure toolbox talks have adequate spacing and only have one person note who is in attendance.
  • Stagger shifts to isolate and compartmentalize staff. This will allow protection of others if a breakout occurs and reduces/limits the number of people who are exposed. Having the same teams work together or travel together can limit the reach of a potential outbreak.
  • Consider a four-day work week to allow for 72 hours of downtime at the project site.
    o This allows for limited exposure to four days instead of five days.
    o CDC and recent studies have shown COVID-19 can stay active up to three days on surfaces.
  • Stop employees from randomly walking floors, between floors, or buildings to reduce cross-contamination.
  • Provide several hand-washing stations with soap and water in common areas and throughout the site.
  • Have portable wash stations at drill sites.
  • Provide hand sanitizer in company vehicles and at drill sites.
  • Modify break areas to allow for social distancing.
  • Stagger breaks to reduce people in break areas.
  • Picnic or other tables should be marked with “X’s to stop people from sitting close to each other.
  • Breakrooms should have chairs removed to stop any chance of gathering.
  • Someone on staff should be assigned to disinfect eating areas hourly.
  • Eliminate sharing personal hand tools and large shared tools should be cleaned before and after use.
  • Reduce the number of people in a truck or pool vehicle for commuting to and from jobsites.
  • Encourage staff to wash clothes daily and face coverings daily on the warmest setting possible.
  • Monitor employees’ wellness. If they are not feeling well, instruct them to stay home.
  • Revisit your leave or sick program to allow for time off.
    o Provide up-to-date information about COVID-19 and local, state, and federal guidelines. Provide additional information for employee and family use when possible.

Safety Products in the NGWA Bookstore
Find NGWA safety products in NGWA’s Bookstore. Included is the Employee Safety Manual, second edition, in a size convenient for storing in vehicles. NGWA members receive a discount upon purchase. Among the sections are those covering jobsite safety and confined spaces, fire on a rig, electrical safety, safe use of hand tools, and more. NGWA members receive a discount upon purchase.

Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.