Because most Utility Construction has been determined to be essential, many contractors around the country are still working. Although working outdoors is probably safer than working indoors, workers must still follow the CDC guidelines – wash or sanitize hands often; don’t touch mouth, nose, or eyes; try to maintain 6 feet of separation with others; clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces; cover mouth when coughing or sneezing; take steps to protect others; and sick workers must stay home. In addition to the above here are few helpful hints that construction workers can use to protect themselves and co-workers: don’t shake hands, don’t share phones or tablets, don’t gather in groups, wear gloves to operate equipment that has not been sanitized.
I know you have heard most of what I just mentioned and, hopefully, your company has taken the time to educate all your employees to make sure they know what is expected of them. If you have not yet educated your employees about the Coronavirus, download the NUCA COVID19 Toolbox Talk and share it with your workers. The TBT can be found at www.nuca.com/pandemic and it is available in English and Spanish.
At a time like this, worker safety is more critical than ever. Companies need to make sure workers are following all safety procedures. Failure to do so can lead to a worker being injured and requiring medical attention at a time when many medical facilities and their personnel are overwhelmed with Coronavirus patients. Even when this crisis begins to wind down, the medical community will still be very busy trying to take care of patients with the virus.
If a worker is buried in a trench because a protective system was not provided, who is going to rescues the individual(s)? Think about how many firemen it takes to perform a trench rescue. A worker who is struck-by heavy equipment or materials as they are being moved will probably need medical attention. Obviously, there are a lot more ways a worker could be injured on the job. Fire rescue teams, ambulances, EMTs, and other medical personnel are already overwhelmed with helping COVID-19 patients and may not be able to respond in a timely manner, which could result in a fatality.
Responsible employers and their employees must strive for zero accidents. Start by planning what workers will be expected to do each day. Review the JSAs required for the tasks at hand, provide the required safety devices needed to perform the task safely, and discuss all tasks with employees before they start working. In addition to the COVID-19 toolbox talk there are many other TBTs available to NUCA members online. Use them to remind workers about the safe way to work. Don’t let workers take chances or cut corners.
Employers can help by ensuring that portable hand wash or hand sanitizer stations are available at jobsites. In some situations, masks may be needed when social distancing cannot be maintained. It is understandable that hand sanitizer, chorine wipes, and other cleaning options can still be hard to find. Until they are available, soap and water works well for hands. A disinfecting solution with ¼ cup of bleach added to 1 gallon of water will work well to sanitize surfaces, such has equipment controls, tools, work tables, and other surfaces that workers share. I realize that sanitizing everything is not something construction workers routinely do, but until this crisis is over, it is necessary to keep workers and their families safe.
Many businesses nationwide are stepping up to help in many ways to get this pandemic under control. Some are manufacturing much needed PPE, others are donating masks, face shields, and other safety equipment to hospitals, nursing homes, and other medical facilities. Everyone seems to be doing something to try and help.
Having worked for NUCA for a long time I know that many if not all of our members have or are doing something to help. I also know that our members are already safety conscious and have been doing their best to keep their workers safe on the job. But accidents still happen. They shouldn’t, but they do. Now is the time to double even triple your company’s efforts to keep the work force safe from work-related injuries and the Coronavirus. The last thing you want to do at a time like this is send a worker to the hospital.
Hopefully by the time you read this article the virus curve will have peaked and our country will be on its way to recovery. However, it is important to remember that the virus will not be gone for weeks maybe months and we will still have to practice the primary precautions established by the CDC.
Take care of yourselves, your co-workers, families, and friends. Work safe and stay safe.
George Kennedy is Vice President of Safety for the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA) and is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP).