COVID-19 pandemic: Construction ‘one of our more challenging workplaces,’ NIOSH’s Howard says

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Photo: Willowpix/iStockphoto

Itasca, IL — Many construction projects are still underway despite the majority of states issuing stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic to help stop the spread of the disease, according to NIOSH Director John Howard.

Howard was the featured speaker on a March 31 webinar – the second in a series aimed at providing workers and employers updates on the pandemic – hosted by the National Safety Council in conjunction with NIOSH.

“State governors have issued stay-at-home orders and have frequently exempted construction and declared it to be essential,” he said. “It’s probably one of our more challenging workplaces.”

Construction workers are often in close quarters and areas that aren’t well-ventilated. Howard encouraged construction employers, workers and unions to partner and create a shared set of best practices to help keep workers safe and healthy.

Among the most common best practices to follow are physical distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when on the jobsite and making appropriate personal protective equipment available.

“We should separate workers as much as we can,” Howard said. “And, when we can’t, we make sure they’re well-protected.”

Other best practices include:

  • Encouraging sick workers to stay home.
  • Having forepersons ask workers to self-identify symptoms of illnesses. For COVID-19, symptoms include a fever, coughing and shortness of breath.
  • Screening all visitors to the site.
  • Performing temperature checks of workers, preferably with no-contact thermometers.
  • Continuing toolbox talks, but making sure they’re done with proper physical distancing of 6 feet between each worker.
  • Identifying choke points in buildings under construction and working to resolve them.
  • Minimizing worker interaction when equipment or supplies are picked up or delivered.
  • Modifying work schedules by staggering shifts, or offering alternate days of work or extra shifts to reduce the number of workers on a site at one time.
  • Restricting access to closed or confined spaces.
  • Not sharing water bottles.
  • Disinfecting shared equipment (e.g., tools and vehicles) before and after each use.
  • Providing workers with handwashing stations. If water isn’t available onsite, employers should make hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol readily available.
  • For large construction sites, Howard encouraged employers to have a specific COVID-19 officer onsite.

    When it comes to PPE, “gloves should always be worn, depending on the task. And don’t share,” Howard said. “Eye protection is a must. For workers who have to work in close quarters, they should use appropriate PPE and augment ventilation in those areas.”

    Anxiety and fear among employees

    “This is an important issue we don’t talk about enough,” Howard said. “This is a very stressful period of time for all of us. Employers should pay attention to it.”

    He recommended that workers use employee assistance programs and other resources that employers make available.

    Cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting

    It’s important to understand that these three terms aren’t interchangeable when talking about precautions to prevent exposure.

    “Cleaning is getting the dirt out,” Howard said. “Sanitizing is what’s used in public health a lot to get down to a certain level of bacteria – sometimes 95% is killed. Disinfection is killing everything. That’s where you want to aim.”

COVID-19 pandemic: CPWR shares tips to help shield construction workers from exposure

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Photo: beekeepx/iStockphoto

Silver Spring, MD — Aiming to protect construction workers from the COVID-19 pandemic, CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training has released guidance for employees and employers.

CPWR collaborated with North America’s Building Trades Unions, as well as partners in research and government, to develop the guidance. The center said it plans to update its COVID-19 webpage regularly as information becomes available.

Tips for workers include:

  • Don’t go to work if you’re feeling sick.
  • Don’t shake hands when greeting others.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others on the worksite, if possible, including during meetings and training sessions.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, or do so into your elbow.
  • Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

For employers:

  • Plan for office staff to have the ability to work from home.
  • Provide soap and running water – and hand sanitizer, if possible – on all worksites to allow for frequent handwashing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces on worksites and in offices, including hand rails, doorknobs and portable toilets.
  • If a job involves working at a health care facility, provide workers with Infection Control Risk Assessment training.

U.S. Department of Labor Determines No U.S. Mining Operations Met Pattern of Violations Criteria for 5th Consecutive Year

ARLINGTON, VA – For the fifth consecutive year, none of the nation’s more than 13,000 mining operations met the criteria for a Pattern of Violations (POV), the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced today. The screening period started on September 1, 2018, and ended on August 31, 2019.

The POV provision in the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 is one of MSHA’s toughest enforcement tools. MSHA reserves the provision for mines that pose the greatest risk to miners’ health and safety, particularly those with chronic violation records. Continue reading»

U.S. Department of Labor Implements New Weighting System For Workplace Safety and Health Inspections

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it has recently implemented the OSHA Weighting System (OWS) for fiscal year (FY) 2020. OWS will encourage the appropriate allocation of resources to support OSHA’s balanced approach of promoting safe and healthy workplaces, and continue to develop and support a management system that focuses enforcement activities on critical and strategic areas where the agency’s efforts can have the most impact.

Under the current enforcement weighting system, OSHA weights certain inspections based on the time taken to complete the inspection or, in some cases, the impact of the inspection on workplace safety and health. OWS recognizes that time is not the only factor to assess when considering the potential impact of an inspection. Other factors – such as types of hazards inspected and abated, and effective targeting – also influence the impact on workplace safety and health. The new system adds enforcement initiatives such as the Site-Specific Targeting to the weighting system. 

The OWS replaces the current enforcement weighting system initiated in FY 2015. The new system is based on an evaluation of the existing criteria and a working group’s recommendations regarding improvements to the existing weighting system. OSHA has been running the new weighting system currently to confirm data integrity.

The system will continue to weight inspections, but will do so based on other factors, including agency priorities and the impact of inspections, rather than simply on a time-weighted basis. The new OWS approach reinforces OSHA’s balanced approach to occupational safety and health (i.e., strong and fair enforcement, compliance assistance and recognition) and will incorporate the three major work elements performed by the field: enforcement activity, essential enforcement support functions (e.g., severe injury reporting and complaint resolution), and compliance assistance efforts.

OWS will become effective October 1, 2019.

 

U.S. Department of Labor Redesigns OSHA’s Whistleblower Website

OSHA recently redesigned the Whistleblower Protection Program’s website. The streamlined design highlights important information for employers and employees on more than 20 statutes enforced by the agency. The new whistleblower homepage utilizes video to showcase the covered industries, which include the railroad, airline, and securities industries. The improved navigational structure allows visitors to easily access information on protected activities, filing deadlines, and resources.

Third Annual Safe + Sound Week set for Aug. 12-18

OSHA, NIOSH and a number of safety organizations – including the National Safety Council – are teaming up for the third annual Safe + Sound Week, set for Aug. 12-18.

This year’s event is designed to “celebrate the successes of businesses that have implemented safety and health programs in the workplace.” Employers of all sizes and from all industries that seek to recognize their commitment to the safety of workers, customers, the public and supply chain partners are encouraged to participate.

 

MSHA Fatality #11

MSHA MINE FATALITY – On June 24, 2019, a 34-year-old contractor with 10 years of experience, received fatal injuries when he fell beneath the wheels of a tractor-trailer. Miners were using a bulldozer to pull the tractor-trailer, which had become stuck in the sand. As the tractor-trailer began to be pulled, the victim was seen walking toward the side of the truck. The victim died at the scene from crushing injuries after being run over by the truck wheels.

Best Practices:
  • Do not allow people to ride in any area of a vehicle that is not equipped with a seat belt.
  • When approaching large mobile equipment, do not proceed until you communicate and verify with the equipment operator your planned movement and location.
  • Stay in the line of sight with mobile equipment operators. Never assume the equipment operator sees you.
  • Ensure, by signal or other means, that all persons are clear before moving equipment.
Additional Information:

This is the 11th MSHA fatality reported in calendar year 2019. As of this date in 2018, there were 11 MSHA fatalities reported. This is the 5th Powered Haulage accident classification fatality in 2019. There were six Powered Haulage accident classification fatalities during the same period in 2018.

Safety and Health Resources

Featured Publication: Lighting the Way for Safety and Health Programs

case study produced through OSHA’s Electric Transmission and Distribution Strategic Partnership illustrates how safety and health programs can protect workers from industry hazards, such as electrocutions, falls, fires, and explosions. The study provides examples of and inspirations for programs that can find and fix hazards before they harm workers