The last line of defense for safety: personal protective equipment
As the nation and even the world continue to deal with the health and economic fallout from the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the COVID-19 pandemic, the construction sector continues its essential work. From earthmoving to electrical and plumbing, the work doesn’t stop. That’s why it’s critical for employers to take the necessary steps to keep their employees safe at job sites.
First steps to take
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines personal protective equipment (PPE) as the final defense in its Hierarchy of Controls, which guides employers through risks, controls and plans to minimize worksite hazards.
So, if PPE is the last line of defense, what comes first?
Here’s a checklist:
- Train employees on the spread of the disease. Teach them what symptoms to look for and proper cleaning practices as well as how to cover coughs and sneezes. Always train employees first.
- Screen workers before performing work in an indoor environment. Temperature checks might be necessary depending on the risks. This may help eliminate the exposure all together.
- Ensure clean facilities including disinfecting portable job site toilets regularly and keeping hand sanitizer dispensers full.
- Assess employees’ risk exposure levels – Can workers remain six feet apart? Do they have little contact with the public, visitors or customers? If so, the risk exposure level is lower.
- Create physical barriers to separate workers from individuals that may be exposed to COVID-19. This would only be necessary for essential or emergency work.
- Find ways to help employees work at social distances of at least six feet apart. When possible, keep work outside as opposed to indoors where the virus can spread easily in close quarters.
- Adopt staggered work schedules and eliminate bottlenecks where employees are forced to stand together – this includes limiting attendance at in-person meetings.
Face coverings in construction
Face coverings are an important part of protection as the pandemic continues. But not all face coverings are the same. While cloth face coverings are a protective measure to help reduce the amount of large respiratory droplets that a person spreads when talking, sneezing or coughing, they only protect other people – not the wearer.
With that in-mind, cloth face coverings are not considered PPE. Rather respirators such as N95 respirators or medical facemasks such as surgical masks are considered appropriate PPE that protects the wearer in addition to others.
Furthermore, cloth face coverings may become wet, soiled or visibly contaminated while worn at a construction site. Therefore, if cloth face coverings are the only option available, employers should provide readily available clean cloth face coverings for when others become soiled.
Regardless of the face covering, they only work when worn correctly over the nose and mouth with a snug, but comfortable fit against the side of the face.
Sharing is caring, but now is not the time to share! Encourage employees to either label or mark their PPE including their hard hats, eyewear, vests and any other items that might be removed temporarily while not working.
PPE should only be worn by one person. If some sort of sharing is necessary, gear should be disinfected between users.
Most construction employees should not need new PPE beyond what they typically use. That said, consider the risks involved and whether additional gear is necessary. Gloves, eye protection and/or face shields may be necessary to decrease the risk of spreading and catching COVID-19.
By minimizing risks and protecting your employees in the upfront, you can help prevent a sick workforce and a job site with no one available to work.
With extensive knowledge in the construction industry, BITCO insures construction businesses across the country and helps avoid risks. To learn more, find a BITCO agent near you at BITCO.com.
For information purposes only. BITCO's blog content does not address all potential circumstances and is not a substitute for business, safety, or legal consultation.