The Way It Is: Making Construction Safe and Keeping Workers Healthy

"The way it is" is an expression and statement of how much we have changed in a very short period of time and how important it is to keep these changes into the future.

As we have all been seeing, reading, and hearing, COVID-19 has taken its toll on all of us and it has greatly impacted the construction industry in general here in the NYC area. Projects have been halted with few exceptions. Those that have not been classified as “essential” or as “emergency” have been suspended for over two and a half months and are just now starting back up.

If you are working now, or when we all get back to work, how we operate on these projects will look vastly different than the way we used to work.

As we are well aware, construction workers are on the front lines of this current health issue and as such we will need to take extra precautions above and beyond the normal safety and health requirements.

These extra safety precautions now must include how we protect ourselves, and all workers on construction projects, from the risks this industry faces; COVID-19.

While we generally focus on the safety side of the work we do in construction, today all construction workers are required to be more aware of the health implications when working on these sites, as many workers operate in close quarters to each other. So, to help protect ourselves and those around us, there are many operational changes that we need to make in order to keep us all healthy and to keep the construction industry moving.

Today, for example, face coverings, gloves, social distancing, health screenings, to name a few, will be required on all construction sites.

These requirements may not be embraced by all, but they must so we can be safe and protected as we begin the restart of construction operations in NYC.

The use of PPE and the evolution of protective equipment over the last several months has given us many options available to choose from, and importantly we need to find the right type of PPE that works for the person wearing it so it can provide the highest level of protection it is designed to achieve.

As easy as this may sound, there will be some of us that feel it is unnecessary to wear the required face covering, gloves, face shields, and other types of PPE that will help keep us healthy.

Why this is, boggles my mind.

The use of PPE will seemingly always be a challenge in this industry and I am still at a loss as to why that is. While many have embraced many of these changes, they do so not only for them, but for the entire construction community, and we are grateful that they have.

As for our current risk surrounding COVID-19 exposure, we only need to read the latest statistics on how little impact COVID-19 had on first responders and the medical communities.

When they use the correct type of personal protective equipment, which included the use of face coverings, the actual percentage of those individuals that contracted COVID-19 were much lower than any other group of individuals, even when they were at the greatest risk of exposure to this virus.

So, while the data suggest personal protective equipment is an effective way of controlling risk and reducing exposures, we should all want to now add the face covering, gloves and face shields to our PPE program – this way it will help reduce the spread of, and exposure to, COVID-19.

This is the best way we can stop the spread and keep ourselves and others safe and healthy.

This is the way it is.

Paul Meli, CRIS

Director of Construction Safety & Risk Management, Triton Construction

Paul is the Director of Construction Safety and Risk Management for Triton Construction.

He brings over 25 years of experience with heavy construction safety and health, industrial hygiene, and environmental issues and is also an OSHA authorized outreach trainer.

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