The world looks very different today than it did a few months ago. There are fewer people moving around, the skies have substantially fewer airplanes in them, borders are closed, businesses have shut their doors and many construction sites now sit quiet and skill.
The world looks very different in other ways, too. Communities have become tighter and friends reaching out to friends and family more often than before. For many people this pandemic is acting as a reminder to recognize the value of relationships, our health and life as a whole.
The story of construction during this pandemic is unique. The industry as a whole has responded in a patch-work-type reaction. Unlike many other industries, working from home simply isn’t possible with currently available technology. Some projects can be deemed more essential than others. The timelines, budgets and operational windows for some projects complicate the shutdown of construction sites in some ways.
What has been constant across the industry – no matter how large a company is, where it is located or what kind of projects they take on – is the need to evaluate the health standards available on the average construction site.
The prevention of COVID-19 involves social distancing and frequent hand washing. As many construction sites stay open, these two key preventative measures highlight the gap in sanitation and space on site.
Many contractors take breaks and eat lunch wherever they can onsite. Office space is most often reserved for site supervisors to complete paperwork and other office jobs. Operators are responsible for cleaning their own vehicles and requesting the materials to do so. These are pretty standard practices on site. But one of the biggest gaps in sanitation that take place in construction is the ability to clean your hands and to use a clean washroom.
Porta Potties are commonplace on every single construction site around the world. These portable toilets are usually cleaned by a third party who is contracted to empty them and refill toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Hand washing stations outside of this isn’t a common practice. Running water is not seen on construction sites and is definitely not a standard.
Not until the COVID-19 pandemic hit us, anyway.
Sanitation and handwashing is one of the highest pushed messages to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As construction sites remained open as other businesses closed, news article after news article popped up about the ability of construction workers to maintain the health and safety standards set by governments in order to flatten the curve and reduce the spread of Coronavirus.
Many sites have responded by introducing handwashing trucks or stations complete with hot water and actual soap. More traditional style toilets have replaced porta potties in certain places to provide a cleaner option for those on-site.
One of the biggest contributors to health and safety on site is not only the facilities themselves, but the cleanliness of the facilities. Because of this, many projects have increased the frequency of contracted cleans. In fact, the Canadian Construction Association has implemented a new standard that all shared surfaces – such as door handles, eating surfaces, railings, light switches, shared tools, shared workspaces and more – should be disinfected a minimum of twice every day. This would also include any equipment cabs, steering wheels, door handles, gear shifts, etc.
Construction sites are cleaner than ever.
Sanitation and access to updated facilities are not the only changes being seen on site.
The sharing of tools has been discouraged over the past few weeks. Site planning must now take social distancing and personal space into accountability to give each individual worker enough space around them. Delivery times and material drop-offs are being scheduled at intermediate times in order to reduce traffic on-site at a single time.
All of these efforts together are helping to improve sanitation conditions on construction sites around the world. Some of them – like the reduction of high-traffic areas – have a positive impact on overall safety on site by reducing the number of people moving around at a single time.
The result of these efforts is that the bar for health and safety standards on construction sites has been raised higher than ever before. It shows that these updated standards are possible. It hits that, maybe, they should be continued in some way after everyone returns to work.
One of the biggest changes in the construction industry that is being seen at this time, however, is the encouragement to stay home if you’re sick.
Construction is notorious for being an industry of badasses. Long work hours, physical labour and intense days make construction workers some of the most dedicated workers we see in physical labour. Taking sick days and having paid sick days isn’t really a thing in the industry.
With COVID-19, however, construction has followed every other industry in encouraging employees to stay home if they are sick. It’s a “trend” that could lead to revitalized contracts and the implementation of the paid sick day as a global workplace standard.
In construction, it could help send the message that has been growing as a topic in the industry as a whole: that taking care of yourself – of your physical AND mental health – is just as important as showing up for work and working your butt off to get the job done.
Health and safety standards on construction sites will not look the same after this Coronavirus pandemic and many believe that they shouldn’t. From sanitization standards and access to running water and proper washroom facilities to sick days and general safety standards, COVID-19 could actually raise the bar of health and safety practices in the industry.
The sad reality is that until we are forced to take action many of us won’t. It’s rare that a global situation would cause such quick and immediate changes in the entire industry. Perhaps one learning that can come out of this pandemic is that we can always do better – even just a little – to help keep ourselves and those around us safe and healthy.