’We have to do it right’: Protecting North Bay construction workers from coronavirus
Coming out of three-month pandemic lockdown, complying with COVID-19 worker protections is becoming a routine at job sites and back-office operations, according to construction industry experts speaking today at a Business Journal “Building the North Bay” virtual event Wednesday. But some are not taking health protocols seriously.
“Knowing what is required involves continuous research, education, site monitoring and compliance due diligence,” said Jim Persons, an environmental, health and safety consultant based in Cotati who has worked with dozens of local construction firms, wineries and other businesses for more than 25 years. “Staying current on California business rules is just the beginning.”
Panelist Doug Hamilton, is president and owner of Oak Grove Construction Company of Petaluma, added, “We informed our people that if they are found without a respirator mask on the job, they will have to go home for a week without pay – the same penalty for smoking pot and testing positive at work. It is a condition of employment. We have a zero-tolerance policy for non-compliance. The same consequence applies to violating our 10-foot separation rule. Each jobsite foreman is responsible for enforcing safety and health protocols.”
Persons said construction sites are each required to have specific protection plans created, like ways to disinfect themselves and maintain social distance, made more challenging become different North Bay counties have different rules.
Workers are also required to be trained to screen themselves for symptoms, and to stay at home if they have them.
In Sonoma County, mitigation measures involve verifying employees’ temperatures are below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and making it mandatory for workers to wear face coverings properly upon entry to the workplace and outside.
Persons said a site-specific safety supervisor has to be designated to enforce health standards to educate both employees and management on how to carry out COVID-19 mitigation plans and protocols. At the same time, hand sanitizer and other disinfecting products must be made available to all employees for their use and for cleaning worker, customer and client work spaces, equipment, tools, vehicles and rest rooms.
Personal protective equipment, (PPE) such as gloves, proper masks and other protective measures deemed appropriate for the nature of business operations depending on the type of work performed, also must be provided
Persons recommended companies engage third-party safety consultant inspections and keep the company’s Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) must be kept up to date for Cal OSHA compliance.
He recommended a specific type of respirator style masks with openings on the sides to limit escape of droplets that could carry coronavirus. Persons also noted regulations on PPE vary with Marin County, for example, including PPE as goggles and face shields and requiring companies maintain a log of all training provided to employees and to ensure proper use of PPE – such as determining what the “right” face covering should be and making sure it covers both mouth and nose.
In addition, workers should know about, and participate in, a daily screening process, while being considerate of others by covering coughs and sneezing into an elbow to block disbursed air droplets.
Persons said food and water should not be shared on the jobsite. If tools are shared, they should be wiped down after each use. He pointed out that the major prevention factor is maintaining a social distance of at least 6 feet.
To keep everyone informed, Persons recommends posting several documents for all to see at headquarters and at each jobsite, including county-specific safety protocols. This includes Sonoma County’s Shelter-In-Place “Stay Well Sonoma County (#C19-14) poster; Sonoma County #CP-14 Construction Field Requirements; the CDC poster “Stop Germs! Wash your Hands” found at www.cdc.gov/handwashing; the construction company’s COVID-19 Checklist to include employer/employee and subcontractor responsibilities, the use of PPE and cleaning and disinfecting protocols; screening and social distancing requirements as well as the firm’s project specific safety plan. Poster guidelines from other counties are also available.
Oak Grove Construction Company
Hamilton said, “We are naïve to think that what happened in New York City and at other hotspots for the coronavirus around the country cannot happen here. COVID-19 has killed more than 121,000 in the U.S. as of June 24 and numbers are still rising as stay at home rules are relaxed and businesses reopen. When it comes to protecting our workers, we have to do it right.”