The use of Construction Site Personal Protective Equipment or PPE continues to be an important industry safety fundamental since the first hard hat arrived on the scene almost 100 years ago. Today, employers are required to pay for and provide workers with all PPE and ensure its proper use. Creating a Personal Protective Equipment Program has become the norm, outlining potential hazards on the job site and going over what PPE is required, and how to wear it, inspect it, and maintain it.
With the new health risks associated with the continuation of work through the COVID-19 pandemic, the recommendations for construction PPE have expanded beyond hard hats and safety goggles. As we move forward, the successful implementation of safety procedures within the construction industry will serve as a critical case study paving the way for other industries to reopen in a COVID-19 safe manner.
What PPE is Required for Construction?
In order to determine the specific requirements for PPC on a construction site, an employer or safety manager must first conduct a Hazard Risk Assessment.
A Hazard Risk Assessment is a thorough and systematic examination of your entire workplace in order to:
- Identify significant hazards
- Determine who may be at risk of injury from the hazards
- Establish the consequences of the hazards
- Decide on the likelihood of such injuries occurring
- Implement control measures to reduce workplace risks
Following the assessment, a risk matrix will be used to illustrate the findings of the assessment. The goal is to determine the overall risk rating of the hazard, and answers two key questions:
- What is the most severe injury possible if exposed to the hazard?
- How likely is the person to be injured if exposed to the hazard?
This matrix will guide the selection of the most effective hazard controls, thus dictating the required construction PPE for the specific workplace.
Types of PPE in Construction: What does Personal Protective Equipment Consist Of?
According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration or OHSA there are 5 types of construction PPE including eye and face protection, foot protection, hand protection, head protection, and hearing protection.
However, additional PPE such as respiratory protection, safety lines and nets, life jackets, and rubber insulating equipment are also required on worksites where hazards that warrant the use of them are present. Specific requirements from OSHA for construction PPE can be found here.
While cloth face coverings and other COVID-19 guidance for construction worksite safety are not currently standards or regulations legally enforceable through OSHA, government-mandated protocols are active and increasing in many US states, and employers themselves can also mandate any of these recommendations as they see fit.
“Most construction workers are unlikely to need PPE beyond what they use to protect themselves during routine job tasks. Such PPE may include a hard hat, gloves, safety glasses, and a face mask. However, under OSHA’s PPE standards for construction (29 CFR 1926 Subpart E), employers must consider whether their hazard and risk assessments, including construction site job hazard analyses, indicate a need for the use of more protective PPE” and must “Make every effort to protect workers through measures other than PPE.” – OSHA.gov
Covid-19 Induced Changes in Construction Safety Equipment
As construction industry workers continue to remain active on job sites across the nation they are doing so with a host of new tools to keep both them and their clients safe. “We should separate workers as much as we can,” says John Howard from NIOSH. “And, when we can’t, we make sure they’re well-protected.” A few of the latest innovations for construction site PPE include:
Educating Workers on COVID-19 Best Practices
While it might seem like common sense to stay home from work if you are feeling sick, it is not always encouraged in environments with hard budgets and strict deadlines. Now more than ever employers must support employees in speaking up about their health and push them to self-identify symptoms of illness and communicate that to their managers. Training construction workers on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, explaining how the disease is potentially spread, and outlining the policies and procedures in place to prevent this is a must.
Maintaining an open dialogue will be key in ensuring workers understand appropriate hygiene practices, proper social distancing procedures, how to correctly wear a mask or use other forms of newly added construction site PPE, how to limit sharing of tools, and how to properly disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Ongoing communication and collaborative peer to peer enforcement ensured that all workers on the job site are up to date on the latest information, best practices, and policies.
Implementing a Contact Tracing System
Should the worst-case scenario play out and a worker test positive for COVID-19, it is imperative that measures are in place to help track down the source. Having a log of all worker interaction, both on and off the job site enables companies to quickly activate containment and isolation measures necessary to flatten the curve.
If you are looking to have more than just a pen and paper sign-in questionnaire, AccuShield offers a comprehensive solution with an all-in-one system that tracks sign-ins, records temperatures, asks COVID-19 screening questions, and prints health-verified name badges.
Maintaining Social Distancing
As data has proven, social distancing is crucial in reducing the spread of COVID-19. However, it can be difficult to maintain and monitor, especially on construction sites where many tasks involve employees working together in close quarters.
Triax Technologies has recently released hard hat tags called “TraceTags” which provide a visible and audible alarm to users alerting them if they come within 6 feet of another individual. It also collects these worker interactions and can be used for contact tracing as well.
Adding Face Masks or Shields as a Required PPE Item
The mask debate is long from over with the latest study published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, reporting that some face coverings — spandex neck gaiters and cotton bandanas — are actually no better than not wearing a mask at all.
However, currently face coverings are recommended or required on most job sites, even though workers don’t always like having to wear them. Common complaints include feeling an impaired ability to breathe, fogging up of safety goggles, and skin irritation behind the ears.
At Global Construction, we mitigate these concerns by utilizing Anti Fog Goggle Shield Face Visors and err on the side of caution by following the latest CDC recommendations as the scientist’s debate face mask efficacy.
Reducing Dust Levels
With shocking new research showing that viruses can spread through the air on dust particles, a dust mitigation plan is now essential for construction sites. There are a handful of dust mitigation techniques that can help reduce dust. Physically separating parts of the site with polyethylene plastic and duct tape barriers is a good place to start in preventing the spread of dust from one area to another. Following the three steps: Wet It – Vac It – Bag It can be used to mitigate dust in an active working area. Special attention to HVAC systems including increased filter changes or upgrades to current units can also improve on-site air quality.
Adding Disinfecting and Handwashing Stations
While this is always a good idea regardless, it is especially important on construction sites where workers are often sharing tools and portable bathrooms, and frequently touching door handles. Having easily accessible sanitation stations and dispensers promotes frequent use and can serve as basic construction site PPE requirements to be used in conjunction with other PPE.
Performing Temperature Checks
In addition to the measures mentioned above, entry point temperature checks can be performed with non-contact infrared thermometers to detect elevated temperatures of workers before they enter the job site. Be aware though that this assessment should always be used in conjunction with other preventative measures as it is inconclusive as a stand-alone solution.
Leading by Example: How to Select the Best PPE for Your Workplace
By following the aforementioned steps to conduct a Hazard Risk Assessment and risk matrix, employers can identify the best effective hazard controls, which will inform their decision on the required construction PPE for the specific workplace.
Combining the results of the assessment with the most recent CDC recommendations and local or state government requirements will provide the basis for the most well-suited PPE for your construction site.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC recommends that employers periodically reassess engineering controls, work practices, and administrative controls to identify any changes that can be made to reduce or eliminate the risk of exposure and then follow through by implementing these changes.
At Global Construction, employee and client safety is our top priority. Our Project Managers are all COVID-19 Safety and Awareness Certified through 360 Training and we are constantly updating our risk matrix and policies to ensure we are doing everything we can to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Learn more about Our Covid-19 Response Plan.
How are you ensuring the safety and health of your employees? What are the best new PPE products you have found for Covid-19? Let us know in the comments below!