Returning to Work: A Safety Director’s Insights

by Steve White

Returning back to work post-shutdown creates many challenges, however, we cannot forget our core competencies and basic skill sets; acquiring the tools and information to succeed and get back to productive and safe working conditions for our employees.

As always I feel Intelligent Thinking always keeps me focused and prepared, creating the confidence I need to be a leader in this industry.

The intelligence needed in this application is developed by hard work, creative thinking with a practical common-sense approach.

This intelligence does not require a major University degree or an Ivy League education, but it does require hard work, common sense, and practical application.

Post-COVID success will depend on each individual contractor developing and enforcing Return to Work Guidelines and Site-Specific Plans for each site WITH the Prime Contractor.

Developing your own policies and procedures that support and reinforce existing policies and procedures on-site and within your company is a requirement. Your first question must be to ask for the site’s existing policy to see what is expected of you and your team, as well as specific sign-offs for COVID Safety Plans required by NY State.

It is important to choose your resources wisely and avoid opinions at all costs. We are looking for credible sources and fact-based data.

Here are a few credible sources I recommend:

Once you have obtained, read, and studied the basic return to work guidelines you will be ready to develop and assess any site-specific plans and requirements.

Special considerations should be thought out concerning site-specific issues, logistics, and resources available, including the location of common use areas (like latrines, entrance and exit gates, stairs, hoists, etc.).

The daily paths of travel to work areas should also be considered if work is able to be performed using social distancing.

Unfortunately, social distancing is not always possible when performing specific tasks, so be prepared to issue N95 type respirators WITH fit testing or alternative methods. OSHA’s respiratory protection rules have not changed.

Here are some basic questions to get you started:

  • Are there hoist involved?

  • Are there enough wash stations?

  • Are the wash stations accessible?

  • What specific PPE do I need to provide for each task?

  • What is the availability of PPE?

  • Is there extra onsite?

  • Who do I ask for help if I need it?

  • How do I get in touch with them?

Once a plan has been developed and approved the information must be given to all employees involved with a good sense of their understanding.

Assess the plan with your onsite team immediately and study the action to find out what can be improved. Listen to your crews, ask for feedback from Safety Professionals.

This step never ends.

With COVID-19 and any other major risks, it is important and fruitful to constantly attempt to raise the bar.

Again none of that is possible without doing the work of making yourself and everyone around you aware of the guidelines, rules, and plans for risk mitigation. If the plans are given to you by the controlling contractor and will have a major part of your company’s success it is very important to give accurate and timely feedback, regardless of if it’s appreciated or not.

One thing I have learned in 30 years of construction is it takes each and every one of us to succeed.

Sometimes the path to success is a little rocky and uncomfortable, however, once the work is performed the rewards are endless.

Remember Intelligence is the path to winning this battle.

Steve White

Executive Director of Health and Safety

New Line Structures Inc.

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