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Protecting construction workers during COVID-19 ‘takes all of us,’ safety expert says

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Photo: CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training

Silver Spring, MD — Mitigating the spread of COVID-19 on construction sites should be a team effort, OSHA Directorate of Construction Director Scott Ketcham said during a Feb. 25 webinar.

Hosted by OSHA, NIOSH, and CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training, the event focused on helping construction employers and workers identify exposure risks and determine appropriate control measures.

Ketcham detailed how updated COVID-19 guidance issued by OSHA on Jan. 29 affects construction employers and workers. He also noted that safety professionals still need to contend with other hazards during the pandemic.

“Controlling this disease process with coronavirus and mitigating other hazards really takes all of us working together,” he said. “We all know that in the construction industry we have multiple trades working on a construction site for different companies. Coordination of efforts to make sure that we’re looking out for one another and protecting one another is important.”

Ketcham added that OSHA will use the multi-employer work policy to assess how contractors are following the guidance on construction sites.

Amanda Edens, deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health at OSHA, acknowledged that new and updated guidance can lead to confusion among federal agencies and employers.

“It’s challenging for OSHA and CDC to give guidance because science changes,” she said. “And it’s challenging for employers too because they’re trying to keep up with what we’re learning as we go.”

Edens said worker safety issues such as trenching and cranes have remained a priority throughout the pandemic, and topped by those related to COVID-19.

“The bread-and-butter work of the agency continues,” she said. “We still have a lot of construction work to get done, even if COVID wasn’t around. But it is, so we have to do that work and do it in a COVID environment.”

Timothy Irving, deputy director of OSHA’s Directorate of Construction, encouraged employers to consider the mental health needs of workers as he discussed nontraditional hazards.

“OSHA might not be the first federal agency you think of when you hear about nontraditional workplace conditions – PTSD, drug use, suicide and other mental health issues,” he said. “But our mission is to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths.”

OSHA’s suicide prevention webpage provides multiple resources to assist workers who might be in crisis. When providing resources to workers, Irving said employers should consider a wide variety of helpful information.

“When you share health and safety resources, be aware that mental health is a part of health and safety,” he said.

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