As we all work through the challenges of dealing with the impacts of COVID-19, we need to remember that this is not different than dealing with any other type of hazard in the workplace. We must always assess the workplace to identify the areas of concerns and take steps to address the issues.
OSHA has been telling employers the same thing for 50 years. If you believe that COVID-19 is somehow different, all you must do is look at the General Duty Clause. Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, also known as the General Duty Clause, requires employers to furnish a workplace which is free from recognized hazards which may cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. COVID-19 is a known hazard, and states across the country have identified special precautions that are to be employed as part of keeping workers safe and to stop the spread of the virus.
What does this mean for employers? Well, applying the basic principles that are discussed in many of the trainings held at ABC Keystone, employers must identify the hazard; create a plan to address the hazard; implement the plan by training the workers in the hazard and teaching them how to protect themselves; and finally, and most importantly, they must monitor and evaluate the processes implemented to ensure workers are complying and to address any shortcomings of the plan.
What are the hazards?
Contact with an infected person. The challenge in determining the number of people infected because the virus can be asymptomatic from a couple of days to up to 14 days of the infected date. That means we must maintain a distance of six feet between workers. In construction, it is common to have the workforce travel together in company vehicles. This would be a hazard and is prohibited during this period. If workers cannot travel together it affects mileage expenses for personal vehicles, an added cost to employers.
Proper hand washing and PPE. Maintaining a safe distance is only one hazard that we need to address, there is also the issue of hand washing and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Proper hand washing and the use of proper personal protective gear is critical in addressing the protection of our workers. With a shortage of N95 respirators, many workers are still engaging in work that can expose them to respirable silica dust and other contaminants. There are many other types of respirators that can be used, but it may mean that additional training and fit testing must be completed in order to ensure that the worker can properly fit, wear, and maintain the equipment.
These are just a couple of examples of the importance of correctly addressing COVID-19 and how those corrective actions can have an impact in other areas. Communicate clearly what the expectations are and then ensure that the expectations are being met and maintained. OSHA has additional information for employers in addressing COVID-19. Please go to https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf for additional information and guidance. Also, please be certain to review the full guidance document from Governor Wolf here. Adherence to these protocols are mandatory to work.
If you have questions related to the COVID-19 virus and the impacts on construction, ABC Keystone offers guidance to assist your company with access to the latest information. Visit www.abckeystone.org/coronavirus for the COVID-19 Updates. We will be providing frequent updates along with links to offer you the best assistance available. If you are still looking for guidance, please feel free to contact Kevin Keith, Director of Safety Services (email@example.com), to discuss your concerns or issues.