As New York City is in the midst of its first week of Phase I re-opening, some of the city’s larger construction companies have been proactive in dealing with the potential dangers of the coronavirus. These companies recognize they are legally responsible for the health and welfare of their employees and have taken measures to ensure safety in the workplace, at least in terms of the pandemic.
Companies have hired outside medical consultants or retrained existing health and safety personnel to be ready to respond to the latest COVID-19 research and prevention. From tool sanitization, hand-washing stations, staggered work schedules and mandatory face coverings, an emphasis on clean and healthy jobsites is driving a new way of building.
According to the website www.constructiondive.com, “Jim Goss, senior safety consultant at HCSS, a construction software development company, said he knows of several large firms that have hired or plan to hire health care providers trained in pandemic preparedness while smaller companies typically have added full-time safety officers on jobs. But, he added, filling these positions can be difficult because of staffing shortages in both the healthcare and construction fields.
“In addition to the challenge of finding a healthcare professional familiar with construction issues, safety now covers more areas of employee wellness,” Goss said. “We’ve gone from an attitude of ‘toughen up and work’ to ‘please stay home.’ It’s really hard for some. But people are our industry’s biggest commodity and we already don’t have enough of them. We need to protect them from disease and injury.”
The coronavirus has changed the landscape of the workplace and companies have to adapt to the changing landscape not only by providing safety equipment to their employees but getting those same employees to buy-in to these changes. Keith Haselman, senior vice president, corporate safety for commercial construction at Structure Tone, understands the importance of this particular aspect of his job. “I’m watching the latest guidance constantly, holding weekly virtual meetings with reps around the country plus Canada and the United Kingdom,” he said. “Our six task forces for excellence and innovation now focus primarily on pandemic safety issues, including project shutdown protocols, design team responses, cost impact, supply chain, legal contracts and project safety. Then we make sure communication moves out quickly and smoothly companywide.”
As medical guidance changes, Structure Tone is focusing on getting everyone from employees in the New York City headquarters to jobsites large and small updated on safety procedures. The firm’s marketing team makes videos showing people how to properly access jobsites and offices, as well as guidance protocols to follow once there. They also developed training videos on distancing, cleaning and sanitation.
"Our site protocols center around getting buy-in from every employee, subcontractor and tradesperson," he said. "Our existing Safety 360 program gives employees ownership of preventing injury and now infection."
Haselman said it works by letting each team figure out solutions.
“We ask open-ended questions, like 'As the weather gets hotter how do we make wearing masks bearable?'” he said. “Answers range from using light material and comfortable ear connections to bringing extra air flow systems and cold drinking water to sites. If they come up with the plans you’ve already got their buy-in.”