Advice for Handling COVID-19 Spread on Construction Jobsites

Prevent COVID-19 outbreaks on construction sites

The engineering and construction industry keenly feel the uncertainty caused by COVID-19.

As essential workers in an industry particularly vulnerable to the threat of economic recession, your construction clients must navigate the uncertainty and incredible risk that grows every day the pandemic continues.

Today’s risks threaten the health of the entire industry. 

Brokerages like yours can help support construction clients by encouraging them to navigate the COVID-19 landscape carefully. Your help can protect construction workers and ensure they deliver the jobs currently in progress.

Encourage Clients to Check CDC and OSHA Regularly

COVID-19 is here, and it will likely remain a part of the general landscape into 2021 and perhaps even beyond. Although it already seems like a lifetime since the WHO declared a pandemic, scientists and governments are learning new information about this virus daily.

Everyone needs to remember that both CDC and OSHA guidelines along with state and local regulations are subject to change. The most recent OSHA guidance came on January 29, 2021, with more sweeping updates expected by March 2021.

As a broker, it’s helpful to remind your construction clients to check on the latest OSHA and CDC guidance created specifically for construction workers on a regular basis. There have been cases where OSHA has produced guidance one day and then revised it within the same week. 

Staying on top of OSHA guidelines and recordkeeping requirements will help your clients minimize the spread of COVID-19 and avoid fines.

Provide COVID-19 Updates to Crews

As with all issues related to workplace injuries and illness, employees need to know their rights and know the correct reporting measures related to COVID-19. This is particularly important in states like California, where COVID-19 was (and may be again) a presumptive work-related illness.

Failure to prepare teams to identify and report symptoms cannot only cause the spread of the virus but also potentially open clients up to liability claims — even when covered by workers’ compensation.

Remind clients to:

  • Put up signs to encourage distancing and handwashing in a language that workers understand
  • Conduct toolbox talks to explain measures taken on site
  • Explain procedures applicable to duties ars related to COVID-19 exposure
  • Provide written copies of all information

Clients may find it helpful to emphasize the 6-foot distancing suggestion using signs.

Respond to Job-Site Spread

Depending on your state and industry, your clients may have an obligation to examine the work-relatedness of a COVID-19 case for workers’ compensation claims. Even if they don’t, construction clients will still very likely need to identify work-relatedness to determine whether the case is an OSHA recordable illness.

A huge part of both work-relatedness and the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 relies on supervisors’ ability to identify symptomatic workers and then isolate them from the rest of the team.

Knowing who is symptomatic and when is going to be crucial for determining work-relatedness. It will have knock-on effects on workers’ compensation claims.

Track Job-Site Infections Daily

Ideally, all employers across all industries should be asking employees if they are symptomatic or if they have been in contact with anyone who is symptomatic at the start and end of every shift. Data can be taken anonymously or as part of daily safety reporting requirements. 

In this vein, it is worth reminding clients that it’s in their interest to encourage workers to report symptoms. Although missed work and lost productivity are painful for both workers and construction companies, one case can quickly multiply. Going to work sick could shut down an entire job site, which is much more painful than being a crewmember or two down for a week.

Clients will also need the paperwork and reporting that supports these measures. Some of the documents clients will need include:

  • Workplace illness reports
  • Worksite assessment reports
  • Inspection schedules and reports
  • Maintenance schedules and reports
  • COVID-19 assessments
  • COVID-19 control plans
  • Communications (internal and external)

Prevent the Spread of Infection Through Hygiene

In addition to tracking all potential cases, your clients need to provide the correct hand hygiene protocols to prevent the spread on site. They also need to be wiping down commonly touched surfaces, actively avoiding tool sharing, and ensuring there is space to distance when available.

OSHA and the CDC provide excellent guidance on the specific measures construction workers can take to limit the spread on a job-site.

Investigate Work-Relatedness

One of the most complex tasks your clients will face is investigating the work-relatedness of COVID-19. COVID-19 is incredibly contagious, and as the number of cases grows, it is increasingly difficult to identify the start of an outbreak, particularly if your client operates in a known hotspot.

For now, the best way to mitigate this challenge is through the paperwork. Generating even more paperwork is every foreman’s worst nightmare. However, OSHA requires organizations to investigate every COVID-19 case. 

Having the paperwork and procedures in place before a symptomatic worker arrives on shift will help speed up work-relatedness investigations and very likely close claims faster.

In addition to the typical paperwork used for work-relatedness, it’s helpful to suggest that your clients use the following tactics and correlated paperwork:

  • Records of modified work schedules that reflect an attempt to reduce total workers on job site and minimize contact with others
  • Documentation, policies, and data that point to limiting workers in small workspaces such as trailers, vehicles, plant equipment, and elsewhere
  • Dates, minutes, and attendance of safety meetings, briefings, toolbox talks, and COVID-19 updates

Minimize Contact with Outside Vendors

As you know, the number of people on a construction site fluctuates throughout the day. In order to be effective, your clients need to know both who is on-site and who interacts. Some working groups suggest banning visitors to the site entirely.  

Regardless, clients should rely heavily on their vendor logs and note workers who met the vendors. Ideally, everyone on site who meets an off-site vendor will keep a six-foot distance from the vendor to prevent transmission.

Remember: both the physical measures and the paperwork will help clients determine work-relatedness — and prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Protect Whistleblowers

The heightened climate will likely produce a slew of whistleblower complaints. A whistleblower complaint can happen to anyone, and the best prevention is through working closely with health officials and employees to do the best job possible at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

If your clients have a whistleblower, they must not retaliate. Whistleblowers have protection from OSHA.

Instead of retaliating or approaching the whistleblower, your client should investigate, document, and prevent using the same methods they would if no one came forward.

Work with Clients to Navigate the Workers Compensation Landscape

Your construction clients are already nervous. They have a lot to lose, and the memory of the last global economic recession is still in the back of their minds. Many feel the pressure to deliver on projects that have already been funded or start projects on the precipice to help protect themselves against what may come in the future.

As a broker, you can help your clients navigate recordable and reportable illnesses by reminding them of the importance of accurate data and paperwork. If you haven’t already, now is the time to reach out to your clients to let them know you’re here to help them navigate the changing landscape of workers’ compensation.

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