5 Steps to Stop the Spread of Infectious Diseases
In April, North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) released a new national standard for infectious disease exposure control practices for U.S. construction sites. The new guidelines aim to prevent disease, disability and death caused by infectious disease exposure, both during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID-19 has not only raised awareness about the emergence and spread of infectious diseases, it has also provided the opportunity to advance their control,” said Chris Trahan Cain, Executive Director of CPWR. “Given the current pandemic and the probability of future infectious disease outbreaks, this national framework will help the construction industry advance functions to better prevent and control infectious diseases and improve health on worksites.”
The guidelines recommend enabling office staff to work from home and designating an infectious disease officer at every job site. Training is also key so workers are aware of hazards and control measures.
Exposure control plans also rely on screening workers for symptoms, offering facilities and resources for personal hygiene and respiratory protection, decontaminating surfaces, and implementing social distancing procedures. Let’s cover each of those in greater detail.
1) Screen Workers for Symptoms
Ask workers to self-identify symptoms such as fever, coughing, chills, shortness of breath, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell, whether experienced on the job site or at home. The guidelines also recommend screening workers for fever using a no-contact thermometer before shifts or if workers begin to feel ill on the job.
2) Isolate Affected Workers
Workers who have tested positive for an infectious disease or are experiencing symptoms should be put on sick leave. Co-workers with whom they’ve had close contact should also be put on sick leave.
Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, affected workers should receive paid sick leave. Additionally, local health departments should be notified and the sick person’s work area should be properly disinfected.
In April, Triax Technologies, Norwalk, Connecticut introduced a proximity tracing solution that aimed to assist with social distancing and contact tracing on job sites during the COVID-19 pandemic. Triax’s proximity tracing solution relies on wearable sensors called TraceTags worn on hardhats or lanyards. The TraceTags emit real-time audible and visual alerts when workers are fewer than 6 feet apart.
Contact tracing is the process of identifying who an individual with a confirmed case of COVID-19 (or other virus) came in contact with over a period of time.
Close proximity interactions, including duration, are recorded on the TraceTag until it gains connectivity to a gateway on the job site. The cellular gateways, placed at exits and high-traffic areas of the job site, transmit this information to the cloud without the need for WiFi or GPS.
Once interactions are transmitted to the cloud, they can be accessed from anywhere via Triax’s dashboard. The dashboard can be used to automatically create contact tracing reports, including timestamp, participants in an interaction and duration of each interaction.
3) Decontaminate Surfaces
It’s important to frequently disinfect high-touch surfaces, including hand tools, operating consoles and handrails.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dirty surfaces should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection. A list of approved disinfectants is available on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website. Note that some cleaning agents may be corrosive or harmful to your tools.
Alternatively, diluted household bleach solutions can be used, if appropriate for the surface. A diluted bleach solution contains ⅓-cup of bleach (prior to its expiration date) per gallon of water. The CDC recommends following the manufacturer’s instructions, ensuring contact for at least one minute and allowing proper ventilation before and after.
Workers should wash their hands after this process, as well as before handling tools on the job.
4) Offer Personal Hygiene Facilities & Respiratory Protection
Disinfectants should be readily available throughout the worksite, as should personal hygiene products. Workers should be encouraged to clean their hands before and after using the bathroom, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose.
The guidelines recommend providing soap and running water when possible. Since asphalt paving crews tend to operate in places without handwashing facilities, it’s important to provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing 60 percent ethanol of 70 percent isopropanol. This should only be used where it’s impossible to provide running water.
Respiratory protection in the form of respirators approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health should also be available if workers need to be near each other to perform tasks or when working in close quarters.
NIOSH-approved respirators include filtering facepiece and elastomeric negative or positive pressure half or full facepiece respirators equipped with N95, N99, N100, R95, P95, P99, or P100 filters.
Blacktop Maintenance Corp., Poughkeepsie, New York, shared a great idea with AsphaltPro on social media about how the company has provided each of its crews with hygiene kits to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Each kit is supplied with Clorox type wipes, gloves (latex and disposable work type), multiple hand sanitizers, antibacterial aerosol cleaner (for wiping down machines at end of shift), paper towels, N95 masks, alcohol hand swabs, and trash bags for all the waste from the kits each day. Blacktop Maintenance President Stewart Petrovits estimates that each kit cost around $50.
5) Implement Social Distancing Procedures
NABTU and CPWR recommend following social distancing procedures. This might be accomplished by staggering work, reducing the number of employees on a job site, alternating work days, or adding extra shifts. Identifying and establishing a plan for choke points where workers commonly come in close contact with one another, such as break areas and job site entrances and exits, will also help.
The guidelines also recommend minimizing contact when picking up or delivering equipment and materials. For example, utilizing e-ticketing solutions to eliminate handling of paper tickets/ In an effort to minimize contact, both Libra Systems, Harleysville, Pennsylvania, and Command Alkon, Birmingham, Alabama, have offered e-ticketing solutions for free for a limited time.
However, as the guidelines from NABTU and CPWR illustrate, these measures may be needed well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic clearly underscores the need for and value of a strong, adaptable and multi-purpose exposure control standard to prevent the spread of infectious diseases on U.S. construction sites,” said NABTU President Sean McGarvey.