COVID-19: Industry Associations Promote Work Site Safety Responses
View of the work site (above) of the Regalia at the Park luxury condo tower in downtown Houston. Image: Google Streets, June 2019.
by Adolfo Pesquera
Around mid-morning of April 9, construction workers at various job sites managed by Joeris General Contractors will stop work to conduct 30-minutes safety stand downs to refresh crews on procedures required to prevent coronavirus contagion.
San Antonio-based Joeris is a commercial contractor that specializes in K-12 school buildings, office buildings and some medical facilities. Adolph Fierros, the company’s safety director, told VBX that they formed a crisis team weeks ago to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state’s construction industry has been fortunate in that the governor cited commercial construction as an essential activity. Many present and future projects have been halted or delayed, but the “essential activity” declaration spared the industry from a complete shutdown.
However, this has put a public spotlight on how responsible contractors are acting as they continue to work.
In the call for the April 9 national safety stand down, AGC of America CEO Stephen Standherr said, “Make no mistake, the first priority of these stand downs is to protect your workers. But we also have an obligation to reassure the public that the construction industry is doing its part to protect all of us from the spread of the coronavirus.
AGC of America CEO Stephen Sandherr. Courtesy: AGC of America.
“Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, your workers and the American public are relying on you to continue that commitment to safety. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is no margin for error when it comes to protecting your workforce and the public from the spread of the coronavirus.”
Joeris job sites will participate in solidarity with the industry, Fierros said. Since the pandemic became a concern, the company has expanded the number of sanitation stations at each job site.
Sick workers are required to stay home. Social distancing procedures have been implemented.
“We’re using a coronavirus form. We have it electronically and in paper, so each of the workers submit a form every day for every project. We don’t collect the hard copy. The foreman gives us a synopsis (on all workers that are screened), and gives us the breakdown by email,” Fierros said.
“For subcontractor meetings, our guys continue to have meetings. Weather permitting, they’re held outside with distance between everyone,” he said.
Some job sites have a large number of workers. To maintain social distancing, Thursday’s safety training will be done in groups of 20 to 25 people.
“And they won’t have to yell,” Fierros added.
“One thing I really want to do is close the safety stand down with a moment of silence in support of health care workers, and for people that have been directly affected, having contracted the virus, and their families.”
Doug McMurry, executive director of the San Antonio chapter, said local response to the national safety stand down call has been very favorable.
“We expect broad participation,” McMurry said. “The bottom line is we are fortunate in San Antonio and Bexar County that commercial construction work can continue. The city and county are counting on us to get this right.”
Other construction industry organizations are also laser-focused on having a clear COVID-19 response.
Immediately notify your direct manager, who should then alert the higher management: Regional/Operations/Department Manager, Vice-President and Human Resources representative. The infected person should immediately be removed from the work site for a minimum of 14 days. Any fellow employees who have come into Close Contact (as defined by the CDC) with the affected individual should be notified of possible exposure to COVID-19. These individuals should also be removed from the worksite for a minimum of 14 days. Next steps should be discussed at the Executive Leadership level to include, CDC recommended actions (including, but not limited to, emergency cleaning, area restrictions, and enhanced safety measures), customer considerations/feedback and depending on extent of potential exposure, continuation of work at the site. Regardless of that decision, (COMPANY) will take necessary actions to undertake a deep cleaning of the affected workspaces.
Frank was working as part of a six-person crew on a job site. They were working very close to each other and sharing tools. On Wednesday, Frank woke up with a low fever. He decided to go to work anyway. During the day he began to feel worse. His employer told him to go home. Over the next few days, Frank began to have a hard time breathing. He called his doctor and was sent to have a COVID-19 test. The test came back positive and his doctor told him to let his employer know.
His employer disinfected the worksite and contacted the local health department for advice on whether Frank’s co-workers should be told to stay at home and watch for symptoms.
What caused this incident?
How could it have been prevented?
Have you known or heard of anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19? If so, what happened?
Please let VBX know if you would like to share what your company is doing to manage work site risk during this pandemic.
Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.