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Implementing Updated COVID-19 Guidelines for Getting Back to Work Safely

By Kevin J. McMahon, MS, CIH, Contributor

As construction companies navigate reopening safely amid the second COVID Delta variant wave, employers should continue to follow and implement guidelines for preventing the spread and risk of COVID-19 in construction environments, to themselves, their employees, and visitors to their worksites.

AIHA, the association for scientists and professionals committed to preserving and ensuring occupational and environmental health and safety (OEHS) in the workplace and community, recently published an updated series of Back to Work Safely™ Guidance Documents (2nd ed) for small to mid-size businesses in 27 industry sectors including the construction industry. The free guidance documents provide clear and actionable steps towards the safe operations of a variety of workplaces, including construction, through prevention, early detection, and control of COVID-19.

Since conditions are changing rapidly, and to varying degrees at different locations, it is critical for all companies to continue to monitor the spread of the virus and to apply the measures that are most effective in preventing the spread at their worksites. According to the guidelines, employers can start by taking updated measures to address employee wellness in the workplace, such as:

  • Communicate to employees the importance of being vigilant when monitoring personal health symptoms and contacting their employers or managers if or when they start to feel sick.
  • Revisit sick leave programs to allow for time off and follow all HR policies and HIPAA or other regulatory requirements.
  • Employers can consider incorporating a wellness questionnaire similar to CDC’s general screening.
  • Survey and check their regional health department websites. For example, there is a personnel screening form available on the San Francisco Department of Health’s website.
  • Refer to CDC’s guidance for businesses and employers regarding employees who have symptoms or signs of COVID-19 (i.e., fever, cough, or shortness of breath) or who have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

The Back to Work Safely™ Guidance Documents (2nd ed.) also offers practical guidance for employers to implement multiple layers of risk mitigation strategies through use of engineering controls (e.g., increased ventilation and air filtration), administrative controls (e.g., staggered shifts), and personal protective equipment (e.g., respirators and gloves).

As workplace restrictions continue to change, many questions still remain for construction employers and companies as they reopen or resume normal operations. Back to Work Safely™ Guidance Documents (2nd ed.) answer these questions for construction employers.

  • How can we best protect the health and safety of our employees, third parties, project sites, and visitors to the worksite?
  • What communication is needed to keep everyone informed of the preventive steps being taken?
  • What steps can we take to minimize the risk of disease transmission?
  • What training is needed for our employees?
  • What health and safety measures do we need to take regarding new virus variants?
  • What do we do if an employee or visitor to the worksite has tested positive for or is suspected to have COVID-19?
  • What do we do if an employee or visitor to the worksite is sick or not following guidelines?
  • How do we handle high-traffic crowd management through the workplace, including during peak times?

While the scope of these guidance documents does not cover workplace testing or vaccination guidance, AIHA experts advise employers to refer to state, local, and federal guidance on these topics, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s COVID-19 testing and vaccine. CS

Kevin J. McMahon, MS, CIH, is Director of Technical Services for HazTek, Inc. (haztekinc.com), a safety management consulting firm that specializes in services to the construction industry. He has contributed to the Focus on Health: COVID-19 document published by AIHA and is a current member of the TAG WG5 Committee for the forthcoming ISO 45006 standard for Occupational health and safety management — preventing and managing infectious diseases – General guidelines for organizations.

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