Protecting construction workers during COVID-19

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication.
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Photo: CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training

Silver Spring, MD — Mitigating the spread of COVID-19 on construction sites should be a team effort, OSHA Directorate of Construction Director Scott Ketcham said during a Feb. 25 webinar.

Hosted by OSHA, NIOSH, and CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training, the event focused on helping construction employers and workers identify exposure risks and determine appropriate control measures.

Ketcham detailed how updated COVID-19 guidance issued by OSHA on Jan. 29 affects construction employers and workers. He also noted that safety professionals still need to contend with other hazards during the pandemic.

“Controlling this disease process with coronavirus and mitigating other hazards really takes all of us working together,” he said. “We all know that in the construction industry we have multiple trades working on a construction site for different companies. Coordination of efforts to make sure that we’re looking out for one another and protecting one another is important.”

Ketcham added that OSHA will use the multi-employer work policy to assess how contractors are following the guidance on construction sites.

Amanda Edens, deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health at OSHA, acknowledged that new and updated guidance can lead to confusion among federal agencies and employers.

“It’s challenging for OSHA and CDC to give guidance because science changes,” she said. “And it’s challenging for employers too because they’re trying to keep up with what we’re learning as we go.”

Edens said worker safety issues such as trenching and cranes have remained a priority throughout the pandemic, and topped by those related to COVID-19.

“The bread-and-butter work of the agency continues,” she said. “We still have a lot of construction work to get done, even if COVID wasn’t around. But it is, so we have to do that work and do it in a COVID environment.”

Timothy Irving, deputy director of OSHA’s Directorate of Construction, encouraged employers to consider the mental health needs of workers as he discussed nontraditional hazards.

“OSHA might not be the first federal agency you think of when you hear about nontraditional workplace conditions – PTSD, drug use, suicide and other mental health issues,” he said. “But our mission is to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths.”

OSHA’s suicide prevention webpage provides multiple resources to assist workers who might be in crisis. When providing resources to workers, Irving said employers should consider a wide variety of helpful information.

“When you share health and safety resources, be aware that mental health is a part of health and safety,” he said.


McCraren Compliance offers many opportunities in safety training to help circumvent accidents. Please take a moment to visit our calendar of classes to see what we can do to help your safety measures from training to consulting.

Trench Safety Stand Down set for June 15-19

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Fairfax, VA — The National Utility Contractors Association, with support from OSHA and the North American Excavation Shoring Association, is calling on employers involved in trench work to participate in the fifth annual Trench Safety Stand Down, scheduled for June 15-19.

The event is intended to raise awareness of the dangers of trenching and excavation, as well as promote the use of protective systems such as sloping, shoring and shielding. The OSHA standard for trenching and excavation (29 CFR 1926.650, Subpart P) requires protective systems for trenches that are 5 feet or deeper, unless the excavation occurs in stable rock.

As part of the event, NUCA, NAXSA and OSHA are offering free online tools, including posters, checklists, fact sheets and videos.

OSHA cautions that 1 cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds, and adds that trench collapses are “rarely survivable.” According to NUCA, citing data from OSHA, 17 workers died in trench incidents in 2018.

As a result of previously successful campaigns, NUCA has expanded upon the stand-down and declared June the inaugural Trench Safety Month, a May 20 organizational press release states.

“In this industry, the safety of our employees on the jobsite is our top priority,” NUCA CEO Doug Carlson said in the release. “Making this June ‘Trench Safety Month’ emphasizes the valuable training and experiences our members’ employees are gaining through the Trench Safety Stand Down week held annually in June throughout our industry.”

COVID-19 pandemic: Construction workers subject of new OSHA alert

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Photo: strods/iStockphoto

Washington — Aimed at protecting construction workers from exposure to COVID-19, a new OSHA safety alert lists measures employers should take during the pandemic.

Released April 21, the alert calls on employers to encourage workers to report any safety or health concerns and stay home when sick. Additionally, the agency recommends that in-person meetings, including toolbox talks and safety meetings, be kept as short as possible. Organizations should limit the number of workers in attendance and make sure they remain at least 6 feet apart from each other at all times.

Employers also should ensure alcohol-based wipes are used to clean tools and equipment – especially those that are shared – before and after use. Workers tasked with cleaning should consult manufacturer recommendations for proper use and any restrictions.

Physical distancing protocol should be followed inside work trailers or when visitors are onsite, and physical contact should be avoided.

Organizations are advised to clean and disinfect jobsite toilets on a regular basis, and ensure hand-sanitizer dispensers are filled. Any other frequently touched items such as door pulls should be cleaned and disinfected.

Other recommendations:

  • Educate workers on the proper way to put on, take off, maintain and use/wear protective clothing and equipment.
  • Allow workers to wear masks over their nose and mouth to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Encourage respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.
  • Use cleaning products listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as effective against the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19.
  • Promote personal hygiene. If workers don’t have access to soap and water for handwashing, provide hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol.
  • Continue to use “normal control measures,” including personal protective equipment, to safeguard workers from other job hazards associated with construction activities.

The alert is available in English and Spanish.

‘No two roofs are basically alike’: CPWR hosts webinar on fall protection

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Photo: nycshooter/iStockphoto

Silver Spring, MD — Roofers face an increased risk of fatal falls to a lower level compared with other construction subgroups, making fall protection strategies a vital component of roof work planning and training.

That was the message of an April 16 webinar hosted by CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training in conjunction with the National Roofing Contractors Association.

Multiple NRCA officials spotlighted basics of fall prevention and protection. “Of course, the challenge with roofing is that no two roofs are basically alike,” said Thomas Shanahan, the association’s vice president of enterprise risk management and executive education. “It’s a very dynamic versus static workplace, so it’s always changing, and so we have to be ever mindful of what are our options – what are the things we can be doing to protect workers so we plan for that.”

According to CPWR research released in 2019, although roofers experienced fewer fatal falls in 2017, the rate of fatal falls within the subgroup stood at 35.9 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers – more than 10 times greater than the rate of all construction occupations combined.

The speakers highlighted the National Campaign to Prevent Falls in Construction – a joint effort of NIOSH, OSHA and CPWR – which offers three core steps to preventing falls:

  • Plan ahead to get the job done safely
  • Provide the right equipment
  • Train everyone to use the equipment safely

In the event of a fall, Rich Trewyn, director of enterprise risk management at NRCA, said the two basic elements of rescue are delaying orthostatic shock while suspended, also known as suspension trauma, and bringing the fallen worker to a support surface such as the ground or roof. Carefully handle the fallen worker to ensure he or she is in a comfortable position, and call 911.

“All of this rescue portion is all about preplanning, and planning for an event that really isn’t going to be easy to plan for,” Trewyn said. “But it’s something that we can do, it’s something that we can practice for and make sure that we’re training our employees in the proper way.”

In the introduction to the webinar, Scott Ketcham, director of OSHA’s Directorate of Construction, discussed the agency’s efforts to mitigate “Construction Focus Four” hazards: caught-in or caught-between incidents, electrocution, falls, and struck-by incidents.

Citing data from the OSHA Information System database, Ketcham also displayed the agency’s “Top 10” list of most cited standards for construction for fiscal year 2019, noting that six involved an element of fall protection. Fall Protection – General Requirements (1926.501) topped the list with 6,881 violations, while Fall Protection – Training Requirements (1926.503) ranked fourth with 2,015.

With OSHA recently deciding to postpone the National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Ketcham gave updates on other planned outreach events in which the agency is involved. The Heat Illness Prevention campaign is on for the spring and summer; the Trench Safety Stand-Down remains “tentatively” scheduled for June 15-19; and Safe + Sound Week, slated for Aug. 10-16, is set to proceed as scheduled.