The novel coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has drastically impacted the lives of American workers and the American economy. At writing, much of the country is still under some type of state-directed “Stay at Home” order. There is not one area of the economy that has not been affected by the outbreak, and the construction industry is no exception.
Keeping workers safe should be the top priority of any construction-related business. So, as the country begins to re-open its economy, the construction industry — especially the field workers — will be facing new ways of completing their work. As I have talked with colleagues across the industry, the work world that we will be returning to will differ drastically from the one we had just a few months ago. And nobody is sure what rules we will be operating under. Two things I see impacting the industry as we just now begin a “return to work” process that will affect how we do our jobs are:
1. social distancing requirements, and
2. its effects on productivity.
Social Distancing Requirements
Social distancing is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, and we need to figure out how to make it work. Most tasks in construction take more than one person to complete, often at distances of closer than 6 feet (1.8 m). So, it is imperative to make sure our workers have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) — not just to protect themselves from the dangers of construction work but to protect themselves and others from possible infections while they work.
Getting your workforce prepared for social distancing guidelines in the field is something to consider now — not after the project has started. For work that requires workers to be in close quarters or to come in contact, make sure you have protocols in place. How is that work to be completed safely? Not only should it give your client the confidence that you are being safe, but share that with your workers, too!
For tasks that require workers to be within distances of 6 feet or fewer, PPE will need to be required and to be properly cleaned and/or disposed of after each use. Prior to tasks starting, expand on the Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) practice and analyze how workers will be moving around the project. Make sure that you have defined the terms for “prolonged” and “incidental” contact. A group of workers passing each other at close distance is probably not a situation that would require specific PPE requirements, but a long-term exposure of multiple crafts working the same area for an extended time may. Having these terms defined to both your employees and your client beforehand can help in adaptation to new workplace practices.
Changes in Productivity
Let’s face it: certain protective measures for tasks just plain make it hard to be productive. Wearing masks, gloves, and protective clothing — while beneficial to our safety — can be cumbersome, uncomfortable, and just slow us down, right? And, these additional PPE requirements may have to be implemented with fewer people in the workspace!
Companies that provide construction-related services must start looking at productivity factors now, not later. Start engaging with your employees for suggestions and feedback. What works for them? What doesn’t work? If your employees do not feel comfortable — or, more importantly, lack feeling safe and protected — your business can suffer not only financial ramifications, but you could stand to lose that great reputation you have worked so hard to build. Gathering this type of feedback from your workers in the field will help you have the right information you need to make the necessary changes.
For those of us in the construction industry, the fluidity of the business gives us a new adventure every day. The COVID-19 outbreak is no different. The pandemic has not only affected daily life in the United States and beyond, but it will also affect how our industry operates in the future.
Safety should be at the top of every organization’s agenda. With a renewed focus on PPE and its effect on productivity, your company can embrace a culture of safety from the top down. Stay safe! Stay healthy!
About the Author
Mark Ogg, MCM, PMP, CCCA, is senior manager of projects for JLL. Ogg has more than 25 years of industry experience. He holds a BS in Construction Management from the University of Cincinnati, and a Master of Construction Management from Western Carolina University. Ogg is professionally involved with Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering (AACE), and Project Management Institute (PMI). For more information, contact: Mark Ogg, Mark.firstname.lastname@example.org.