“We know that we have a lot of eyes on us making sure that we are practicing the best protocols available,”?said Larry Gescher, a co-owner and the president of H.P. Civil Inc.“Besides the extra hand washing, wiping surfaces and tools down, we now require safety glasses and gloves at all times.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is having an impact on the construction sector across the country, with many private sector projects being deemed as non-essential by several state governments. But in regards to many departments of transportation projects, work continues on those projects that state authorities have determined to be essential.
General contractors, though, still need to adhere to strict precautions on job sites. They are being required to take safety measures to protect workers and their families by wearing protective gear like gloves and masks, and unless it can be avoided, have workers maintain a distance of six feet between each other as people across the country are being asked to maintain social distancing.
H.P. Civil is one of those contractors who must work within new guidelines for an ODOT project where it needs to set up a 7-mi. lane closure on Interstate 84.
"Things are a little crazy trying to get new procedures in place to keep our guys working while the protocols are still changing," said Larry Gescher, a co-owner and the president of H.P. Civil Inc., located in Stayton, Ore. "As an industry, we take the safety of our employees very serious and COVID-19 is no exception. We understand that there are a lot of people not currently working as a result of the Governor's Executive Order. As a result we know that we have a lot of eyes on us making sure that we are practicing the best protocols available. Besides the extra hand washing, wiping surfaces and tools down, we now require safety glasses and gloves at all times."
For this project, Gescher is making sure to take all of the necessary precautions.
"We can have our crew show up in their personal vehicles at the start of the lane closure where we can get them off the highway in a safety location," said Gescher, "The problem arises when they get to the other end of the lane closure and need a ride back to their personal vehicle. We put together a process that if the guys are in a crew cab, that one person would be in the front and the other in the back on the opposite side. This could be a problem because you're not going to have 10 trucks there. We're trying to figure this out."
One possible solution is to have people, who are wearing safety harnesses, travel in the back of the truck, but the problem is that they would be traveling in live traffic.
"It comes down to which alternative is safer," said Gescher. "We're talking to other contractors doing similar work and they're opting for the back of the truck. Everybody has their own interpretations of what you should be doing."
There have been a few calls to the police, which are based on motorists seeing construction crews in trucks, and part of this is due to increased construction activity as the weather warms up. Standard night-time lane closures are being extended on a job-by-job basis as a result of less traffic on the highways.
ODOT has not shut down any of H.P. Civil's projects and, at this point, Gescher has 36 employees on seven job sites.
"We're taking all the precautions and we're putting all the best practices into place that we can – the safety of crews and their families is paramount," he said. "We've got two people at home who were told to say in quarantine until they can get a doctor's release to come back. We can't chance anything. Everybody is trying to do their job and we all have to be understanding as the virus makes everyone a moving target."
As of last month, the order was issued for people to wear plastic face shields and the company has ordered 100 of them.
"Everything is on backorder and the biggest problem is trying to find everything we'd like to have to implement best practices," said Gescher, "and until then, you have to improvise and come up with the next best things to keep on going."
Gescher praised the efforts of the Oregon Association of General Contractors, which immediately acted when the COVID-19 situation arouse.
"They were aggressive in pulling together best practices for us to go by," he said. "I'm probably spending a good 80 percent of my time chasing COVID-19 stuff, trying to keep up and ahead of it. It's really time consuming with the changing guidelines, You can go through the CDC, but it's not specific to our industry. You can rely on the AGC and they're sending us constant updates. On April 9 the AGC of America held a national stand down and we participated with all our projects.
"They also provided a pile of information that we could take to our employees and walk them through it, which could be shared with their families," he said. CEG