Pandemic Safety Practices on Job Sites May Be Here for the Long Haul

The COVID-19 pandemic altered almost every aspect of the world and the construction industry was no exception.

Naturally deemed an essential enterprise by the government, job sites never shut down during the pandemic, but companies and workers had to adjust to a sea change of safety issues and precautions.

“Classified as essential workers, construction workers followed new guidelines for screening, distancing, masking and cleaning,” wrote Metal Construction News Associate Editor Christopher Brinckerhoff in an illuminating article published in August. “

While envisioning a post-pandemic future can be cloudy with the current Delta variant wreaking havoc across the globe, some in the construction industry think that pandemic safety practices on job sites may be here for the long haul.

Majority of Contractors Expect Hygiene Protocols to Continue

The Metal Construction News “post-pandemic survey” in June found that more than half of the respondents felt that some hygiene requirements put in place because of COVID-19 would likely continue.

Contractors were asked “which job site safety protocols will still be in place in five years?” and the responses were:

  • Hand washing and other hygiene procedures: 56.2 percent
  • Social distancing: 9.5 percent
  • Temperature checks: 5.8 percent
  • Mask requirements: 5.3 percent

It should be noted that contractors were truly split as some 41.6 percent felt like none of the above job site safety protocols would be in place five years from now.

Shop Safety Procedures Likely to Stick Around

While contractors on construction job sites are typically working outdoors or in open air environments, construction industry shop operators do not always have that luxury.

It may not be surprising that in the Metal Construction News “post-pandemic survey” in June some two-thirds of manufacturers and suppliers felt that some hygiene requirements put in place because of COVID-19 would likely continue.

Manufacturers and suppliers were asked “which shop safety protocols will still be in place in five years:”

  • Hand washing and other hygiene procedures: 65.9 percent
  • Social distancing: 12.2 percent
  • Temperature checks: 7.3 percent
  • Mask requirements: 4.9 percent

Like contractors surveyed, some manufacturers and supplies felt like shop safety protocols would return to a pre-pandemic equilibrium with 31.7 percent saying that none of the above shop safety precautions would be in place five years from now.

Changing the Legal Landscape of Post-Pandemic Contracts

While there was no way for construction contracts at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to have foreseen all the issues surrounding the crisis, there is a strong possibility that construction contracts going forward will address certain job site safety issues and protocols brought on by the pandemic.

Metal Construction News in the “post-pandemic survey” also asked contractors and architects about possible clauses that may be added into contracts in the future and most respondents thought that most of the suggested clauses would be added:

  • Addition of defense and insurance obligations for failure to follow public health related protocols: 36 percent
  • Inclusion of pandemic and public health crises into the list of force majeure events: 57.9 percent
  • More stringent sanitation and safety controls to manage the spread of communicable diseases like COVID and the flu: 52.7 percent
  • Clauses that allow extensions of time or additional money if a job site is shut down due to health-related concerns: 64 percent 
  • Clauses that address increased costs when additional procedures or PPE are required because of a public health issue or something akin to a pandemic: 57.2 percent 
  • Payment clauses that account for payment of retainage and other amounts owed when a project is shut down for a long period by order of government entity or owner: 55.1 percent
  • Stronger independent contractor language to isolate decision making on exposure to COVID and other public health issues to the actual employers of exposed personnel: 40.1 percent

Less than 10 percent surveyed, 7.9 percent, felt that none of the above clauses would make their way into new job sites and construction contracts.

Iron Workers Union to Continue Safety Protocols

Some safety protocols put in place since the COVID-19 pandemic started do not emanate from employers or local governments but from unions.

Iron Workers International told Metal Construction News that a COVID reporting and mask supply programs, along with other safety procedures would continue.

“Our safe practices to prevent any spread of COVID-19 will continue as long as the virus exists,” Steven Rank, executive director of safety and health at the Washington, D.C.-based said.

For employers and workers not covered by Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), OSHA’s COVID-19 Protecting Workers guidance outlines many of 

OSHA’s standards and regulations for personal protective equipment including the Respiratory Protection Standard.

Topics: Safety, Construction