Along with the rest of the world, the construction and industrial demolition industries have changed dramatically since the outbreak of COVID-19. Many commercial demolition contractors like Elder Demolition have had to adapt to the changing environment in order to protect their workers. We will explore the state of the industry in this article and give resources and steps to ensure that your workers are safe.
Demolition Industry & Coronavirus
Across the nation businesses are shuttering as stay-at-home orders and bans on large gatherings were ordered in order to contain the virus.
In some cities and states, like Boston, MA, and New York, NY, non-essential construction work has been suspended. In others, like in Arizona and California, they have been labeled as essential workers.
However, in many states and on the federal level, construction was labeled an essential service. Construction and demolition have continued in most parts of the country.
While this is a good thing for the health of the industry, there are rising concerns among workers that they are not being protected. The federal government has created guidelines for construction sites indicating that:
- Construction contractors must provide soap and running water or hand sanitizer on job sites
- Workers must engage in social distancing
- Workers must abide by the large gathering ban, which dictates no more than 10 people in an enclosed space.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be “preserved and used only when necessary.”
Most construction sites use PPE, like the N95 masks, when working in hazardous sites. This is the same kind of PPE used by health professionals when treating COVID-19 patients. Construction companies have been encouraged to donate their masks to hospitals and to stop ordering new masks.
Industrial Demolition in Oregon
In Oregon, Governor Kate Brown’s stay-at-home order did not restrict construction sites. However, despite increased demand for construction, many workers are asking for only essential jobs to be continued.
Many are eager for construction work to continue in Oregon, including the Oregon State Building and Trades Council and the Associated General Contractors. According to Elizabeth Merah, spokesperson for Governor Brown, “The Oregon Health Authority has the authority to determine if additional business closures are necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19. Right now, specifically shutting down construction is not one of their recommendations.”
OSHA does not have enough staff to investigate all of the more than 1,152 complaints that have rolled in since the beginning of the stay-at-home order on March 23rd. Oregon OSHA typically sees 2,000 complaints in a year.
Unlike workers who can do their jobs at home or can easily maintain social distance, construction workers worry about COVID-19 because their tasks often require them to be in close proximity.
How Industrial Demolition Companies Are Addressing Workers’ Fears
Construction and demolition workers need extra precautions to ensure that they are able to work safely and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. By protecting your workers, you not only keep them healthy but everyone with whom they come in contact.
The Associated General Contractors of America advocates for these extra safety protections:
- Social distancing
- Screening people to make sure that they do not have a fever
- The proper use of PPE
- Let workers stay home if they feel sick
Many of these precautions are not currently possible either due to the nature of the work, or the short supply of protective equipment.
Time is what is really needed to keep workers safe, but that is in short supply and comes at great cost. Contractual obligations often mandate finishing a project by a specific time or risk steep fines.
Workers are also vulnerable because many carpool to job sites, or are housed in hotels while working at a distant job site. Where they used to be housed two to a room, now that is not feasible. Hotels are becoming increasingly difficult to book and their cleanliness is an unknown.
You can protect your workers by slowing construction and demolition as much as possible, implementing social distancing, and ensuring that there are enough hand wash stations to allow everyone to wash their hands and stay safe.
Construction & Demolition Industry Resources Regarding COVID-19
Here are some key resources regarding how to respond to COVID-19 in the construction and demolition industry:
- Oregon OSHA’s guidance. This is updated frequently about all the best current practices.
- Q&A about Oregon OSHA’s education and enforcement of issues related to COVID-19.
- COVID-19 Job health and safety resources of contractors.
- Guidance on preparing the workplace for COVID-19.
- Associated General Contractors of America’s page on COVID-19 basics.
- CDC’s page on the coronavirus
What To Do To Protect Your Workers
Follow these basic steps to keep your workers safe:
- Clean your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in a public place or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
- If soap and water are not available make sure to use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces daily and follow this disinfection guide.
We Encourage Continuing Education in Industrial Demolition
We advise encouraging your employees to take advantage of educational resources while they are at home. This can take the form of OSHA classes or working on professional skills. The slowdown may offer an opportunity to continue investing in your workers so that they continue to learn about best practices.