General Guidelines for Working Safely in Construction During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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As many countries are opening economies to resume work, construction companies may be considering additional requirements and steps to help protect workers from SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The virus is currently believed to spread from person to person when an infected person’s respiratory droplets, perhaps from coughing, sneezing or talking, land in others’ eyes, nose or mouth.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that being within 6 ft. (2m) for 15 minutes or more of an infected person’s respiratory emissions increases others’ chances of receiving enough virus to potentially be infected.[1] Another possible route of infection, but not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, includes contacting infected surfaces and then touching the eyes, nose or mouth, which may help spread the disease.[2]

Many internationally recognized organizations such as U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), World Health Organization (WHO), European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU OSHA), and CDC have also published updated guidance.[3] The CDC and OSHA have created guidance specifically addressing the construction industry.

Key points from the CDC guidance for construction include:

  • Encourage sick workers to stay home
  • Encourage workers who are well with sick family members to follow CDC precautions
  • Limit close contact with other people
  • Limit tool sharing
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects, including shared tools, machines, vehicles, ladders, portable toilets, etc.
  • Practice proper hand hygiene
  • Provide training on symptoms, risks for severe illness, and on proper handwashing
  • Provide hand washing stations or hand sanitizer with greater than 60% alcohol concentration
  • Develop and implement a social distancing plan to maintain at least 6 ft. (2m) of separation
  • Encourage the use of face coverings in addition to social distancing. Note that these face coverings do not replace respiratory protection, where hazards dictate respirator use.

Additional engineering and administrative controls may include:[4]

  • Install shields and barriers, where possible
  • Restrict access or limit capacity in enclosed areas such as elevators, trailers, small spaces, shared vehicles, and break areas
  • Modify work schedules to stagger trades, or minimize mixing of shifts
  • Limit in-person meetings, or ensure people can spread out 6 ft. (2m) or more between attendees
  • Conduct hazard assessments to determine if any additional personal protective equipment (PPE) is required and provide the related training
  • Install posters demonstrating cough and sneeze etiquette and proper hand hygiene and encouraging staying home if sick
  • Designate a COVID-19 safety and health officer responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns
  • Understand your site’s local health requirements and levels of community outbreaks.

Social distancing graphics can also help provide visual reminders such as floor graphics and signs available from 3M.

U.S. OSHA Risk Levels

Moreover, U.S. OSHA has provided additional guidance on exposure risk levels for COVID-19. In OSHA’s “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19,” a control banding approach is provided based on levels of risk exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Levels include Low, Medium, High and Very High.

OSHA applies these risk categories in their construction-specific guidance. OSHA anticipates that most construction work will be low or medium risk, with some opportunities for high risk tasks. For example:

  • Low risks tasks include those that allow workers to maintain 6 ft. (2m) of separation, and have little contact with customers, visitors, or the public.
  • Medium risk tasks include tasks where workers may need to work within 6 ft. (2m) of each other or have contact with visitors, customers or the public.
  • High risk tasks include “entering an indoor work site occupied by people such as other workers, customers, or residents suspected of having or known to have COVID-19, including when an occupant of the site reports signs and symptoms consistent with COVID-19.” High risk activities could also include work in hospitals with known or suspected cases of COVID-19.
  • Very high risks involved in health care procedures are not likely to occur in construction.

Based on the recommended COVID-19 guidance by CDC and OSHA, employers may have to make PPE changes as well. Please see our other blogs in this series for more information about PPE selection and how to clean, disinfect or decontaminate PPE.

Connect with 3M Resources

Additionally, 3M has many other solutions to help you as you plan for safe construction worksites, from innovative products to world-class technical support. For more COVID-19 resources, visit www.3m.com/coronavirus. For more information about the construction industry, please visit 3M’s construction safety website and we encourage you to download our full construction guidance document on working safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Contact your local 3M representative for more information on product-specific solutions.


Resources:

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/public-health-recommendations.html

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-covid-spreads.html

[3] https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/covid-19-back-workplace-adapting-workplaces-and-protecting-workers/view, https://oshwiki.eu/wiki/COVID-19:_guidance_for_the_workplace#See

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/construction-workers.htm