Safety has always been a challenge on construction sites, but the coronavirus pandemic has made maintaining safety much more difficult. The rapid spread of COVID-19 forced thousands of construction projects to suddenly shut down. Now that many construction projects have opened and work is resuming, owners and construction managers have the difficult task of protecting workers and project personnel not only from traditional safety hazards, but also from the spread of COVID-19.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as well as some state and city agencies, have released COVID-19 guidelines for construction projects.

Project owners and managers should use these guidelines as starting points to develop protocols encompassing the follow key measures, while keeping in mind that state and local regulatory bodies may have nuances in their own guidelines:

  • What project personnel should do if sick
  • How to disinfect and clean the project site, tools, materials, and equipment
  • How temperature screenings should be conducted
  • Where hand washing stations should be placed and when they should be used
  • What personal protective equipment (PPE) will be required
  • How physical distancing will be accomplished on-site
  • What protocols will be in place for accepting onsite deliveries—protecting the site and project personnel
  • How policies and protocols will be communicated

Though creating and implementing frameworks around these guidelines while simultaneously trying to get a project back on track may seem daunting, the key is to focus on four primary areas: 

  • Developing robust, project-specific COVID-19 safety protocols
  • Training and educating personnel regarding COVID-19 protocols
  • Implementing enhanced monitoring activities, including increased project site oversight and record collection
  • Conducting data analysis to pinpoint areas of concern, which can be used to make upgrades and improvements to the plan

Creating a COVID-19 Safety Framework

Part 1: Develop Robust Protocols

Maintaining safety policies, procedures, and protocols on construction sites has become more difficult during the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to planning for “traditional” safety hazards, site safety plans must now combat COVID-19 and the spread of germs on project sites. Owners and construction managers can successfully navigate the “new normal” with a robust, project-specific COVID-19 safety plan. As part of this step, owners and managers should also consider:

  • Benchmarking

    Before drafting and implementing a plan, owners and construction managers should study the protocols of similarly situated projects. Each construction project is unique and will undoubtedly require project-specific measures; however, there are commonalities among all construction projects. Studying and learning from peers in the industry will assist with the development of best practices.
  • Developing New Policies and Procedures

    The purpose of the safety plan should be to raise awareness and combat the spread of the virus. At a minimum, a project-specific COVID-19 safety plan must meet the requirements/guidelines set out by the CDC, OSHA, and state and local authorities.

    The safety plan should include site-specific measures, including, but not limited to, how and where temperature screening/testing will be accomplished; how distancing requirements will be met in areas such as elevators, stairs, and field offices; where handwashing stations will be placed; and what measures will be implemented to protect workers while performing tasks that make complying with distancing requirements impossible.
  • Creating Metrics/Key Performance Indicators for Compliance Reporting

    A key element to combating the spread of the virus is creating a mechanism for compliance reporting. The safety plan should include vehicles for metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs), which can be used to monitor compliance with the plan. The KPIs should be specifically tailored to the project with clear objectives that are shared with the entire project team, from the construction manager to the lower-tier trades.

Part 2: Train Personnel

As is the case with new policies, procedures, and protocols, project personnel will require training as part of the implementation process. All project personnel, whether a project executive, project manager, consultant, superintendent, or worker, should complete a well-designed, project-specific training course and execute an affidavit confirming completion before working on the project site. Depending on the size and duration of the project, refresher courses should also be provided after a certain period of time has elapsed. Any person who is repeatedly found to be in noncompliance with the protocols should be retrained before being allowed to return to work.

Part 3: Implement Enhanced Monitoring Activities

Owners and construction managers should implement enhanced protocols for frequent site visits from safety professionals and independent consultants to observe, monitor, document, and correct compliance concerns regarding the COVID-19 protocols. A site-specific checklist should be created in order to efficiently and effectively monitor compliance with the safety protocols. Using the site visits to monitor high-level issues will enable the project management team to keep track of compliance by observing and reporting findings on a daily or weekly basis, help enforce the protocols, correct bad behavior, and track progress and improvements regarding compliance with the safety protocols. The high-level checklist data points can include maintaining social distancing, establishing handwashing stations, monitoring daily logs, and PPE compliance.

The COVID-19 guidelines and procedures suggest daily logs be kept regarding incidents of exposure to the virus, site disinfecting schedules, temperatures screening results, health forms, questionnaires, daily task plans, delivery schedules, and so on. With additional documentation required on a daily basis, the safety program should include enhanced document controls and record retention policies.

Part 4: Conduct Data Analysis

Combining the data collected from the site visits and monitoring activities, the information gathered from the daily logs and documentation, and the statistics used to track KPIs, owners and construction managers should have a wealth of information that can be used to continue improving project policies, combat the spread of the virus, and limit the possibility of fines from regulators, delays, and potential shutdowns.

The data collected can be used to pinpoint specific workers, subcontractors, and trades that are repeat offenders, which can be addressed at the project level. The data can also be used to pinpoint areas of weakness in the protocols and the safety plan as a whole, which can lead to improvements and solutions.

Additionally, and maybe most importantly, the data collected is vital for effective contact-tracing initiatives. The information contained in the daily logs, pre-task plan sign-in sheets, and temperature-screening logs will enable the project management staff to identify the areas of the project site an individual who exhibits symptoms or is confirmed positive for COVID-19 worked in on a given day and any project personnel with whom they may have come in contact. With accurate and up-to-date data, swift action can be taken to minimize or stop the spread of the virus, such as contacting individuals, performing interviews, and determining what additional precautionary measures should be taken.

How to Get It All Done

There is no way for owners and managers to avoid the minefield of additional hazards and project pitfalls created by the current pandemic. However, the faster the new guidelines can be incorporated into a project’s day-to-day operations, the more likely future changes in the landscape will be easier to tackle. Often, the use of an independent integrity monitor can provide the additional resources as well as the specific expertise needed to ensure compliance training and investigatory functions such as auditing, data analysis, compliance, and interviewing are fully covered. With the help of a team of construction and real estate industry specialists, owners and construction managers can develop, implement, and monitor a robust COVID-19 framework specifically geared toward the federal, state, and local guidelines each project must abide by.