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Building Resilience – Reflections on Health & Safety in Construction

By Dale Partridge

As construction companies, we find ourselves not only being committed to our client’s success but also committed to the safety and welfare of our employees and the entire worksite.

When we look back at the past 12 to 16 months, we see that a critical new emphasis was placed on safety and health in the workplace. COVID-19 has had all of us taking a long hard look at our existing safety policies, new policies and procedures, as well as compliance concerns from a number of enforcement authorities. Some items were temporary additions such as an increased number of handwashing stations and the abundance of hand sanitizer. Obviously, the usage of hand sanitizer along with social distancing and facial coverings has been an integral part of keeping our employees safer during the past year. In addition, we are now faced with the growing availability of vaccines. With this new added and more permanent layer of protection, we should be more insulated against mass outbreaks. At all times our employees and worksites must put safety first.

Most all construction companies are far too familiar with weathering the storm of inspections from multiple agencies. However, this past year has brought about a whole new emphasis in regard to COVID-19. The pandemic forced us to reevaluate how we work as a company and also as a member of a team. Corporate directives along with Federal and State guidelines/mandates dictated how we worked for the past year.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we were all asked to follow a long list of changing protocols. Social distancing, facial coverings, and quarantines were all part of the process. At the same time, we were expected to design, develop, and initiate a COVID-19 Safety and Response Plan. I believe OSHA to have had a direct positive impact in getting companies to comply with the necessary requirements to keep their employees and worksites safe. As a result of the policy changes and Safety and Response Plans, I believe that companies will keep some of the policies in place for emergency situations in the future.

When the directive to prepare and implement a COVID-19 Safety and Response Plan first came to us, we were already up to speed with having the input for safety protocols from both the New York State Department of Health and the CDC. In addition, we had already prepared multiple plans involving our work environment, working from home, facial coverings, etc. Having this information made the task of developing a Safety and Response Plan a little less troublesome. The expectation of being inspected by OSHA compliance officers assisted with any timeline issues for completion.

When we take a step back and look at the above paragraphs it is easy to see that most all of our dealings with COVID-19 were reactive. Being prepared is an overstatement when we look at the COVID-19 pandemic. It truly is something that none of us had ever experienced in the past. However, it was not the first disease outbreak for most of us. In 1981 we dealt with HIV, in 2014 Ebola, and in 2016 the Zika virus. When we first faced this pandemic, our company was already putting protocols and policies in place for the entire organization. We took practical knowledge from years past, some on the spot education, PPE, and common hygiene practices and used that to protect and educate our employees and worksites.

When the time came for a COVID-19 Safety and Response Plan, it was easy to put the practical applications into a formal document. As information changed, the policies and procedures changed. For example, our facial covering requirements changed along with, when, and where to social distance. In order to give our employees a healthy and safe workplace, our documents needed to be fluid and have the ability to be modified. The results? Extremely safe workplaces where COVID-19 cases were kept to an absolute minimum.

When you have the commitment for safety starting at the executive/owner level, it is always easier to maintain a certain safety standard.

This type of commitment is especially needed as OSHA has launched a National Emphasis Program (NEP) that directly relates to an employer’s responsibility to protect its employees as it relates to COVID-19 and the protections that go along with workers reporting unhealthy or unsafe conditions. NEP means that OSHA will be looking at how employers are handling this emphasis across the nation. If a deficiency is detected, then the employer risks getting a citation for noncompliance. Welliver has always been in line with OSHA compliance. In fact, at times Welliver has already had policies/directives in place before OSHA put out their mandates.

An employer does have a responsibility to its employees and its worksites. This responsibility is a lot easier to manage having the company’s management team on board with safety. When safety starts at the top it filters throughout the company like a moving body of water. This is what allows any construction company to meet the commitment of safety to its employees and the commitment to their clients.

Dale is a subject matter expert on the topic of safety and a veteran professional with a diverse background in compliance and quality control. Paired with an extensive list of OSHA training and certifications, Dale is responsible for the overall status and facilitation of Welliver’s safety training programs, as well as safety compliance, tracking, reporting, documentation, and oversight of all on-site safety managers. He creates an environment of personal accountability, and plays an integral role in maintaining Welliver’s position as a leader in workplace safety. Dale is Welliver’s Director of Safety and can be reached at [email protected]