Safety Innovation

Reflections On Construction Site Safety During COVID-19… What Did We Learn?

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Salus Safety
6 min read
August 2, 2021
The construction industry has undergone considerable changes since COVID-19

COVID-19 has induced seismic shifts across the world and it may be years before most industries can fully contend with the changes foisted on both the markets and day-to-day work in general. This is particularly true with the construction industry, which was hit hard financially and had to approach the safety concerns of COVID-19 very carefully.

With work abruptly halted and new projects placed on hold while construction companies scrambled to meet the challenges posed by the new normal, sites have had to quickly adjust to social distancing measures, implement new hygiene and personal protective equipment (PPE) measures. They also had to accommodate a greater level of working from home for roles for those not essential to front-line operations. The importance of health and hygiene, as well as safety, became much more amplified. All of this has had to happen while maintaining safety standards in the more conventional aspects of construction work in a sector that is inherently hazardous.

In this difficult time, the construction industry matters more than ever and is seen as a vital part of stimulating the post-COVID economy. The industry, which represents 13% of global GDP, has played a critical role in responding to the crisis and is also key in the economic recovery efforts going forward.

The majority of construction firms are by no means in the clear, but now is the time for companies to show resolve and resilience and to start reimagining the industry so the sector can emerge stronger post-pandemic. For this to happen, it’s important to understand how the last fifteen months have forever changed the industry in ways both big and small.

Impacts of COVID-19 on the Construction Industry

Workplace changes wrought by COVID are likely to be long-term.

The biggest and most immediate impact of COVID on the construction industry was the sudden and unexpected rise in project cancellations as clients postponed large investments.

A report from ENR.com in April 2020 showed that nearly 40% of US construction companies were forced to lay off part of their workforce as demand for services declined. Some 53% of firms reported having to cancel or furlough major contracts in the face of a sputtering economy, and a full 28% of the industry’s planned projects in the United States were halted.

A more pressing concern was the urgent need to keep employees safe as the virus spread rapidly. Construction sites benefited from outdoor settings and the ability to social distance, but the potentially deadly risk needed swift and immediate interventions, including:

  • Education. Companies needed to provide clear and easy-to-understand information about the realities of the virus in order to combat disinformation. That included basic safety steps like the importance of wearing proper masks and maintaining social distancing, as well as underlining the seriousness of notifying employers of any symptoms of the virus and allowing possibly infected employees to self-isolate at home.
  • Hygiene. Thorough steps to properly disinfect the workplace both before and after every shift became a priority. This also included training on proper handwashing techniques and setting up sanitizing stations at multiple points.
  • Mindfulness. Determining which employees might have been at increased risk from the virus was a vital part of combatting the spread, as was rapidly acting on that information by limiting the exposure of those employees. Similarly, rescheduling in-person meetings on remote meeting services allowed important business to continue without exposing anyone to unnecessary risk.
  • Changes in Work Conditions. Limiting the number of employees at a given site was essential to preventing the spread of the virus, even on the most critical projects. Construction companies responded by staggering work shifts, limiting workers in enclosed spaces and other dangerous spots, and installing plexiglass barriers where needed in order to protect workers from potential infection.

Those changes had to be implemented on short notice and with little guidance on how best to conduct business safely in a pandemic era. This meant factoring in the unique features of every construction project and evaluating potential risks with little or no previous experience to draw upon. It further meant doing so while grappling with a catastrophic loss of income and concerns about management’s own health and safety.

With vaccines now widely accessible and the economy humming again, those adjustments and precautions need to be evaluated in a new working environment. With important lessons in hand, mindful construction firms can continue to keep their workers safe and their projects moving forward in an effective manner.

Construction Safety Lessons Learned from the Coronavirus Pandemic

A refocus on safety means the right tools for the job.

The first and most important lesson garnered from the COVID-19 was a re-emphasis on workplace safety. This has to be a priority at all times, of course, but the onset of the pandemic meant adherence to all pertinent safety protocols became more pronounced. These pandemic-induced changes saw safety checks becoming firm directives instead of mere checklists employees were expected to tick off.

This has resulted in a number of positive developments for the construction industry, most of which can and should be followed up in a post-pandemic world. For example, safety incidents on construction sites dropped sharply, partially due to the limits placed on onsite personnel in order to meet COVID restrictions, but also because employees were more acutely aware of the need for strict adherence to safety protocols in efforts to combat the virus.

Those in an office environment faced bigger challenges than workers onsite where frequent outdoor work presented less of a risk of contracting the virus. Construction company offices experienced the same sea change in day-to-day operations that many industries did, with in-office workdays replaced by employees working from home and remaining in touch via services like communication platforms like Zoom and Slack.

Such trends are likely to continue in the future. Work-from-home options offer employees flexibility in managing their daily lives and save time on commutes, while companies can save money on office space. Similarly, increased digitization means being able to manage day-to-day functions such as information access and meetings on short notice that simply wasn’t on the workplace landscape before the pandemic. Commentators expect these trends to continue into the future, with companies seeking to strike an appropriate balance to suit their particular needs.

Streamline Your Safety Program With a Contact-less Safety Platform

With COVID adding a series of new challenges to existing ones, it’s important to have the strongest and smartest tools in your arsenal to minimize the effects of COVID-19 on your business. In these trying times, Salus offers reliable and targeted safety solutions critical to the success of all construction firms.

Speed and reliability is the name of the game going forward, and software emphasizing transparency and accessibility will enable your business to meet any challenge adequately. At Salus, we work to apply the lessons learned from the pandemic in the era of the “new normal” by customizing safety solutions that is intuitive for the worker and offer powerful insights for management.

If you’re a construction firm looking to capitalize on the current business environment and want digital safety at your fingertips, schedule a SalusPro demo now and we’ll outline our various features and together explore suitable solutions tailored to your specific needs.

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