HOW THE NEW NORMAL LOOKS LIKE: Third of five parts

Construction firms must impose physical distancing and other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 once Iloilo City gradually lifts community quarantine rules. (F. A. Angelo)

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

The construction sector is one of the main drivers of the economy and provider of jobs. But public and private sector projects were postponed after the national and local governments imposed community quarantine measures to stop the local spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

As the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon and even in Western Visayas is about to end on April 30, 2020, a group of UP Visayas professors suggested some guidelines if construction works resume.

The proposal entitled “Gradual easing of enhanced community quarantine scheme in Iloilo City: Inputs to the lockdown exit plan” noted that “while the COVID-19 situation is changing rapidly, the legislation and regulations used to govern the Philippines workplaces are not.”

“Employers have the duty to keep workers and work sites safe and free of hazards. All measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should be done in compliance with requirements under the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) Department Order No. 13-2017 (Occupational Safety and Health Standards) which enumerated the guidelines for occupational safety and health in the construction industry and associated regulations and public health directives issued by the Department of Health,” according to the exit plan.

The suggested plan is authored by UP Visayas Professors Maria Elisa Baliao, Rhodella Ibabao, Hanny John Mediodia, Cristabel Parcon, Juhn Cris Espia, and Vicente Balinas.

The plan proposed on-site practices that maintain physical distancing and ensure contract tracing as the construction sector gradually resumes operations.

“These practices shall be adjusted based on the number of workers or what is most applicable on-site. During this time, all parties must place an increased focus on health and safety in order to keep job sites open,” according to the plan.

Contractors should designate a site-specific COVID-19 Supervisor (example foreman) to enforce these guidelines on-site.

In going to and from the construction site, transportation should be provided to workers/ employees who have no modes of transportation such as bicycles or motorcycles. By renting a vehicle, physical distancing is maintained and regulated.

Employers/contractors need to post and/or communicate COVID-19 policies to employees/workers. These policies should cover how the site will operate, including, but not limited to:

-the sanitization of sites

-how employees and contractors report illnesses

­-how to ensure physical distancing

-how work will be scheduled

To ensure physical distancing in the worksite, employers should focus on the staggered start times, breaks, and lunches to prevent the workers from crowding and getting near each other.

The number of people working on-site and where they are assigned to work should also be restricted.

Site movement controls should be enforced, like limiting the potential for workers to gather, including personnel in material hoists.

The number of people who use elevators and hoists at one time should also be limited and meetings should be held outside or in large spaces to enable physical distancing.

Employers must also limit unnecessary on-site contact between workers, and between workers and outside service providers

They should also control traffic patterns like designating entry and exit points in stairwells and gates to avoid the potential for workers to pass each other within the physical distancing space.

Physical distancing among workers must be practiced by maintaining a minimum of 1-meter distance from each other.

If there is no alternative, the contractor must provide suitable personal protective equipment (PPE), limit interaction to the minimum time required to perform the given task, and comply to the maximum extent.

PPEs such as gloves, goggles, face shields, face coverings, and face masks must be provided depending on the activity being performed.

Contractors should identify “choke points” and “high-risk areas” where workers are forced to stand together, such as hallways, hoists, and elevators, break areas, and control them so that social distancing is maintained.

For on-site sanitation, employers should focus on:

-access to soap and water (ways to properly clean hands) or alcohol-based hand sanitizer

-washroom facilities

­-sanitizing commonly touched surfaces or areas (hoists, site trailers, door handles, equipment, residential units)

-avoiding the sharing of hand tools and power tools. If sharing is necessary, the equipment must be sanitized.

The workforce should be regularly monitored given the latency or dormancy period of COVID-19. This can be done by maintaining a daily attendance log of all workers and visitors.

If an employee/worker feels sick, he/she must stay home or be sent home. For big companies, a body temperature check using digital thermometers should be conducted before the start of work.

Other measures that will ensure physical distancing is for project offices/trailers to post “Restricted Access” signage on the door with the contact information like phone numbers. Doors must be locked to prevent access and the number of people who are allowed to enter these offices must be restricted for physical distancing allowances.

Office workers should avoid sharing keyboard or mouse, pens, clipboards, or documents and commonly touched such as door handles, chairs, tables, stair handrails, etc. should be sanitized regularly.