Last Updated: 26 March 2020
Earlier this week Ontario joined the list of provinces and US states in lockdown. In an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, workplaces - except those considered essential - have been mandated to close-down and explore work-from-home policies. Included in the list of essential workplaces are home builders, renovators, plumbers, electricians, and other skilled trades necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences and other essential businesses.
Though general contractors and skilled trades have the option to work, I know of many who have decided to cease operations until the virus is controlled. The purpose of this article is to help those employers and crew members still working create a safe environment so everyone gets to go home healthy at the end of the day. Level is not a health authority, nor are we encouraging anyone to work during this time. Our philosophy is that if you do not feel safe at work or your employer is not providing you with a safe working environment, you should stop working immediately. However we do recognize:
That not working may not be possible for some because of other commitments.
Essential infrastructure, like hospitals and homes, need to be built and maintained.
At some point, we’ll return to work with new policies to manage virus outbreaks.
In our last article we shared 9 tips for managing COVID-19 on your jobsite and we got great feedback from the community about it (Thank You 😊). Following on from that, below we have provided some tips on building a COVID-19 protocol for general contractors and skilled trades to help manage health & safety on the jobsite. We end with a demo on how you can share this protocol with your field workers through Level to keep them informed and updated on how you are keeping them safe.
What are the core ingredients for a great COVID-19 protocol? Using information provided by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, The World Health Organization, Associated General Contractors of America and Canadian Home Builders’ Association, we’ve broken it all down into three main ingredients: Educate, Equip, and Support.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
When it comes to Educate, we suggest including the following in the protocol you share with your crew:
Be a credible source of information for your crew
You’ll want to create a channel of credible information. Share these channels with your employees and encourage them to follow these sources of information, too. There’s a lot of online information about COVID-19 and you do not want to be acting on any misinformation. Here are are some examples of reliable sources:
World Health Organization
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
You can find more resources here
Industry associations, such as the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA), the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), and many more, are also valuable resources.
Trackers & data visualizations
Communicate your company’s policy for the jobsite
Using recommended actions from the CDC, Associated General Contractors of America and the Canadian Home Builders’ Association we've created the following policy. Feel free to update it and share it with your crew.
Here at [insert company name], our priority is the health & safety of our employees, subcontractors, and customers. We’ve been listening to the Health Authorities and will continue to do so. On their recommendations we have implemented the following policies on jobsites:
Anyone with symptoms or who has been exposed to the virus should not come to work.
Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not return to work until they are free of fever (100.4° F [38.0° C] or greater using an oral thermometer), show no signs of a fever or any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants). Employees should notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
Anyone who has been on a plane must self-quarantine for 14 days, regardless of whether or not they’re showing symptoms.
We are staggering shifts, breaks, and lunch breaks to minimize the number of people in one area.
Whenever possible we will not be stacking trades.
We are limiting how many people are on the site at one time. Non-essential personnel are going to be working from home whenever possible.
Where possible maintain a distance of 6 feet from each other.
Do not congregate over lunch breaks.
When possible, to avoid personal contact, we are having shipments and deliveries dropped off. If a signature is needed, use your own pen.
Wear gloves as often as possible.
Avoid hand-shaking and other contact greetings.
For our residential renovations, where homeowners are still occupying the home, we are requesting clear space boundaries (dedicated washroom, crew does not enter certain areas, homeowners stay out of the renovation zone even after hours, etc.).
Health and Sanitation
We are providing more handwashing stations and will be encouraging frequent handwashing (look out for the signs).
Clean hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) must not be shared and the sharing of tools and equipment will be limited.
We are training select employees to carry out good housekeeping and disinfect commonly shared surfaces and items, such as: Doorknobs and handles; Light switches; Water coolers; Port-a-potties; Restroom facilities door/faucet handles; Shared equipment and tools.
Sanitize your personal equipment, like phones and tablets, as often as possible.
Do not use a common water cooler. Please use your own individual water bottles. If you do not have a water bottle, we will provide one to you.
Avoid cleaning techniques, such as using pressurized air or water sprays that may result in the spread of the virus (ie bioaerosols).
We’ve put a COVID-19 division in place to keep you updated on the progress of the virus and its impact on projects. They are [insert contacts].
We’ve changed our policy around sick leave to better support your needs during this time.
We are looking for ways to improve our policy and if you have any feedback or ideas please feel free to share them with us. Contact [insert contacts.
Should you have any questions please contact [insert contacts].
As with any safety risk, open communication and training are excellent ways to equip and prepare your employees. As the employer, you’re responsible for providing clean handwashing facilities, disinfecting shared supplies and equipment, and training your employees on your policies — in the language they best understand.
According to the CDC, frequent handwashing is the best way to prevent infection. You’ll want to make sure hand washing supplies and signs are placed adequately across the jobsite. Hold weekly toolbox talks and safety meetings to educate and remind employees how to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 (here is a Coronavirus Toolbox Talk Template you could use). When possible, try add some humor to get a message across.
Train supervisors to screen employees prior to entering the jobsite
Ask the following questions to all employees prior to entering the jobsite. If they answer “yes” to any, they should be asked to leave the jobsite immediately. Anyone asked to leave should not return to work until 24-hours after they are free from a fever or signs of a fever without the use of fever-reducing medication:
Have you, or anyone in your family, been in contact with a person that has tested positive for COVID-19?
Have you, or anyone in your family, been in contact with a person that is in the process of being tested for COVID-19?
Have you, or anyone in your family traveled outside of the country within the last two weeks?
Have you been medically directed to self-quarantine due to possible exposure to COVID19?
Are you having trouble breathing or have you had flu-like symptoms within the past 48 hours, including: fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, body aches, chills, or fatigue?
CDC recommends that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately.
What to do if an employee is tested positive for COVID-19?
Fisher Phillips shares the following advice:
You should send home all employees who worked closely with that employee for a 14-day period of time to ensure the infection does not spread. Before the employee departs, ask them to identify all individuals who worked in close proximity (three to six feet) with them in the previous 14 days to ensure you have a full list of those who should be sent home. When sending the employees home, do not identify by name the infected employee or you could risk a violation of confidentiality laws. If you work in a shared office building or area, you should inform building management so they can take whatever precautions they deem necessary. The CDC also provides the following recommendations for most non-healthcare businesses that have suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases:
It is recommended to close off areas used by the ill persons and wait as long as practical before beginning cleaning and disinfection to minimize potential for exposure to respiratory droplets. Open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in the area. If possible, wait up to 24 hours before beginning cleaning and disinfection.
Cleaning staff should clean and disinfect all areas (e.g., offices, bathrooms, and common areas) used by the ill persons, focusing especially on frequently touched surfaces.
Cleaning staff should wear disposable gloves and gowns for all tasks in the cleaning process, including handling trash.
Gloves and gowns should be compatible with the disinfectant products being used.
Gloves and gowns should be removed carefully to avoid contamination of the wearer and the surrounding area. Be sure to clean hands after removing gloves.
For more info on the CDC’s recommendations click here
As an additional resource, we found this Coronavirus & Flu Preparedness Checklist, which you can use, too.
As employers, it’s our responsibility to ensure that our employees feel safe at work. The best companies are those that care for both the physical and mental well-being of their employees. These are not normal times, people are stressed. Tens of thousands of people are jobless because of COVID-19. These people could be family members to your employees and subcontractors. Friends I’ve spoken to are on the fence when it comes to going to work during these times. They are afraid if they do not go to work right now, their employer will hold it against them.
The best way to support your employees is to communicate with and listen to them frequently. You want to encourage an open safety culture. Your employees should feel comfortable owning symptoms of illness in themselves (and others) and taking preventive measures like removing themselves from the jobsite. Get them to share ideas and contribute to a communication plan. Ideally, people from different departments (HR, field works, and management) should be involved in developing this plan. A great way to go the extra mile with communicating to your staff is to share short video clips of yourself or other leaders within your organization. It personalizes the message and is proven to increase engagement.
Sharing Your Protocol on Level
One of the reasons I started Level is to help construction parents spend more time with their families. Growing up my parents owned 3 small construction companies. They consistently complained about having insufficient time for business admin and they often did their admin at the cost of family time (dinners, weekends, etc). In times like these, I think it's really important to think past ourselves and check-in with our families to see how they are doing and let them know how you are keeping yourself safe.
Level is a cloud-based business management platform that gets home builders, renovators, and skilled trades paid faster by helping them better manage communication on their jobsites. Level is helping people cope in these times in the following ways:
Coordinates and limits the number of people on site through its scheduling feature.
Keeps track of the preparedness and sanitation of each jobsite with COVID-19 checklists created on Level.
Reduces the need for physical handovers because information, like documents, is shared digitally.
Streamlines onboarding and training because all the necessary information (including safety info) on a job can be instantly shared.
Allows companies to easily inform and update their field workers on COVID-19 and their policies, thereby encouraging an open safety culture.
For this demo, I’m going to show how Level achieves point 5. The end result will be a COVID-19 protocol that you share with your field workers either through the app or via a browser-based slideshow (preview here). For more information on how Level helps keep your crew safe during COVID-19, request a demo.
What makes Level different from its competitors is its ease-of-use. We modeled Level after popular apps most of us already use, namely Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. This means Level can be instantly deployed with little to no training. So if you’ve created a post on Facebook, captured a photo through Instagram or sent a message on WhatsApp, you already know how to use Level.
To get started with keeping your field workers informed and updated on COVID-19, you would create a project on Level and give it a title (we called ours COVID-19 Protocol on Jobsites). Next, if your field workers have downloaded Level, add them to the project with “can view” permissions (unless you would like them to add to the project, too). If your field workers have not downloaded Level (we know it can be difficult to get everyone to download an app), don’t worry, there is another way to share the project: using a slideshow link. Our slideshow feature generates a sharable link for a project which can be viewed through any web browser (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, etc). Whenever you add new content to the project, the slideshow will automatically be updated with it. This means you don’t have to generate a new link each time. There are, however, 2 drawbacks to using a slideshow link. Firstly, people do not receive notifications when new content is added, so if you do update the slideshow, you’ll need to notify your crew manually. Secondly, you can add 9 different types of content to a project (see image below for 8 of the 9), but only Photos, Galleries, Videos and Text notes can be shared through a slideshow link.
To show how you would communicate with your field staff using the slideshow link, we’ve emulated the following scenario:
March 17, 2020 (Post #1): Recognize that COVID-19 is a problem and you inform your fieldworkers you are keeping track of it through the health authorities. You’ve also shared some useful resources.
March 18, 2020 (Post #2 and #3): To encourage an open safety culture, you share some great resources recommended by your field workers.
March 19, 2020 (Post #4): Things with COVID-19 are escalating. To show field workers their safety is your priority, you share a Jobsite COVID-19 protocol with them.
March 19, 2020 (Post #5): You inform your field workers that you’ve added new hand washing stations and doubled up on cleaning. You also share some new hand washing posters you are putting up on the jobsites.
March 20, 2020 (Post #6): You share a link to your morning presentation (aka Toolbox talk) on Preventing Respiratory Infections at Work
March 25, 2020 (Post #7): You announce that you are temporarily suspending projects. Note in the slideshow how you’ve gone the extra mile and personalized this announcement by doing it over video.
An added benefit of using Level to manage jobsite safety is that it creates an audit trail of your efforts and this may make you eligible for rebates on your insurance premiums. In November 2019, the WSIB released a new program called the Health & Safety Excellence program. This program gives rebates to construction companies and skilled trades on their WSIB premiums if they submit evidence of implementing certain health & safety procedures. Level is an easy way to create and collect that evidence.
Most people that are working on a jobsite right now are scared. If they're not scared, you can bet their husband, wife or child are on edge every time their loved one leaves for the jobsite. Six degrees of separation is the idea that everyone on the planet is six or fewer social connections away from each other. As an employer, the responsibility to keep our employees safe extends past just ourselves, but to everyone we are in contact with. A good rule of thumb is if you’re an employer and you can’t imagine yourself working on your jobsite, you can’t expect others to.