7 Tips for Staying Healthy on the Job Site: A General Contractor’s Guide to Construction in the Age of COVID-19

April 20, 2020

7 Tips for Staying Healthy on the Job Site: A General Contractor’s Guide to Construction in the Age of COVID-19

It’s our new reality: the way we work and live has changed drastically in the face of coronavirus. Local and federal government officials alike have asked the American public — and American businesses — to take new steps to ensure their safety as COVID-19 spreads through the nation. In states and in counties where construction has been deemed an essential business, general contractors and their staff may continue with projects and related construction work so long as they’re taking adequate precaution on job sites.

That doesn’t mean going about business as usual. Though you’re still on the job, your safety, along with the safety of your employees and customers, must be a top priority amid this pandemic. Finding yourself wondering how to stay as healthy while working? Here’s a list of important steps you can take to ensure everyone’s safety on the job site.

Practice adequate social distancing.

You might be familiar with the term by now: the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least six feet of separation between members of the public. It’s a distance believed to help curb human-to-human transmission of COVID-19, and it applies not just to shoppers in grocery stores, but to employees in the work place, too.

Your employees and subcontractors should maintain at least six feet of distance between each other as is feasible while working. You may choose to limit the number of workers permitted in one portion of the site at any given time, or have subcontractors who need to work in the same space work stacked shifts.

Projects might take longer this way, but it’s important that you keep employees and yourself safe and healthy. Make sure you’re communicating constantly and openly with home or project owners about any projected delay in completion.

Wash your hands.

Another tip you’re likely to have heard many times in the past few weeks, but one you should by no means underestimate: wash your hands, and do it properly.

Proper hand washing means running hands under water, and then scrubbing with soap for at least 20 seconds, according to the CDC (if you need a 20 second reference, sing the chorus of happy birthday). Rinse off — and then make sure you’re taking care to dry your hands fully, too.

Wash hands before eating, before touching your face, after touching garbage or heavily trafficked public spaces (on the job, this might mean after handling tools or other shared equipment). If you’re working on a construction site devoid of running water, you can look into portable hand washing stations. You can either purchase your own — simplistic portable sinks start around $80, like the one listed here. Call a regional supplier to get a quote for a long-term rental.

If your job site lacks running water and a portable option isn’t available, the CDC recommends hand sanitizer comprised of either 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol to protect against the spread of COVID-19. Keep a bottle on your person to use frequently, and ask your employees to do the same.

Use proper protective gear.

The CDC in early April recommended that Americans use face masks or other kinds of cloth face coverings as a supplemental precaution — that’s in addition to measures like social distancing. Covering your nose and mouth could potentially stop the spread of the virus to others if you happen to be carrying it unknowingly. You might consider asking your workers, if they’re not wearing one for construction purposes, to wear masks or other kinds of face covers (like a bandana, scarf, or other piece of clothing that won’t get in the way of working) while on the job site.

If you’re using communal equipment or tools, you might also consider having members of your team wear gloves when appropriate. If that’s not an option, or if you can’t procure enough gloves for your entire team, make sure you’re sanitizing shared tools or equipment regularly.

Be flexible with sick days. This is crucial, especially in an industry where lower-wage, hourly construction workers aren’t necessarily granted health insurance through work. If you’re working with subcontractors, direct them to take necessary sick leave when they’re feeling unwell or showing flu-like symptoms.

If you’re working with your own hired employees, your company (depending on how many employees you have) may be required to provide two weeks of sick leave for workers. Companies with less than 500 workers, per the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, are as of mid-March required to provide up two weeks of sick leave for workers at full pay. There is some leeway for businesses with less than 50 employees, though, in the case that providing adequate leave would “jeopardize the viability of the business,” according to the law. The administration has not yet clarified how it will define the parameters of ‘viability’.

Even if you aren’t mandated by law to do so, providing workers with sick days — or perhaps the promise of supplemental work, once they’re feeling better — is an important investment in your health and in the health of your entire team.

Keep workspaces properly ventilated.

The CDC recommends holding meetings that must take place in person in well-ventilated, outdoor spaces. Those guidelines should apply to your workspaces, too; supplement social distancing and other precautions by ensuring airflow on project sites, especially in cramped quarters. Keep windows and doors open when possible; if you’re working in spaces like bathrooms or basements, consider installing air purifiers or fans to facilitate air circulation.

Limit your outside exposure. Construction is considered an essential business in multiple states across the country, allowing the industry to continue its work even as massive portions of the country find themselves under some variation of a stay-at-home order. It’s important that you be cautious even outside of work, so you don’t risk bringing the virus onto the job site and spreading it among your workers.

That means adhering to your state or county’s shelter in place order accordingly, and asking your workers to do the same. You should refer to your local government for additional details, but take care to only leave your home when absolutely necessary outside of heading to work.

Stay informed.

That is to say, do your own research: it’s important to keep up to date with the evolving rules and regulations that correspond with the locations of your projects (especially since shelter in place orders can differ even on a county to county basis). You’ll want to make sure that you’re following the guidelines for essential businesses to keep your employees safe and remain compliant with local law.

You should also ensure you’re taking the precautions recommended by the CDC. Doing so will keep you, your workplace and your team healthy and safe. As researchers learn more about the way the virus spreads and its impact on public health, new regulations and recommendations will no doubt surface. You’ll want to follow them as closely as possible.

Adhering to these guidelines is crucial to curbing the spread of COVID-19. Practicing social distancing, implementing adequate sanitization methods and following other CDC recommendations can help keep you and your workers safe on the job site. Make sure to check with your local government or public health officials to understand more about what your state, county and city are doing to help stop the spread of the coronavirus — and how you can join in.