Here's How Bay Area Construction Sites Are Responding To The Coronavirus
When word came down last week that six Bay Area counties would be lifting their bans on construction activities, contractors began strategizing how to resume work on Monday.
For the firms whose job sites had been sitting idle since March, this would be the first time that they would face the day-to-day realities of social distancing and other measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus on a construction site.
Fortunately, these firms can learn from contractors who have been working on essential projects in the Bay Area over the last two months, who now have tried and tested approaches to prevent communicable disease transmission.
“It’s not as though the floodgates are open, no one should return and expect to pick up where they left off two months ago,” said Jennifer Wycisk, director of safety at Truebeck Construction, a West Coast contractor based in San Mateo. “We’re emphasizing that every contractor needs to ‘restart smart’ and ensure all procedures are in place before work begins.”
While the Bay Area's shelter-in-place order paused construction on many of Truebeck's commercial office sites around San Francisco and Silicon Valley, the firm continued work on healthcare facilities like the San Mateo Health Campus and the emergency department at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View. Along with biotech campuses, these healthcare sites were deemed essential projects because they offer patient care and coronavirus research and development.
With sick patients being treated nearby, disease prevention and safety measures were paramount at these medical job sites, and Wycisk and other project leaders were tasked with devising protocols to keep Truebeck's employees and trade partners safe, not to mention the hundreds of medical staff and visitors on site.
The result is Truebeck’s comprehensive Communicable Disease Prevention Plan, which specifies sanitation and construction best practices, from overarching rules — ‘How many people can be on-site at one time?’ — down to the finest-grained details and how to safely complete a two-person task, proper face protection equipment for employees, how many tables should be allowed in break rooms, how often to clean shared tools.
The challenge for Wycisk now is to revise this document according to the new regulations that have been promulgated by the counties that are reopening: San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa and Marin.
“It’s not just one document, it’s six different sets of rules and regulations that need to be reviewed and understood,” Wycisk said. “Fortunately, many of the practices we put in place a month ago already go above and beyond what the counties are requesting, so we’re ahead of the curve.”
Wycisk admitted that the CDPP was intended to be a living document. The company had just held a virtual all-hands meeting to train its staff on the CDPP's contents and will hold regular trainings as updates are made.
Even with job sites permitted to reopen, social distancing remains a central challenge for contractors. Much of the work of construction requires two or more sets of hands.
Tasks that will put workers in close proximity, like rolling out roofing materials or installing glass panels, must be carefully planned and monitored. In situations where 6-foot distance cannot be maintained, contractors must perform task-by-task risk assessments to introduce added protective measures.
If at all possible, Wycisk said, employees should find another way to accomplish the work while maintaining social distance. Daily pre-task planning can further assist in predicting and preventing needless contact.
One of the newly introduced regulations that contractors now have to contend with is the need to log the name, address, phone number and email address of every worker on-site on any given day. Pete Caputo, vice president of operations at Truebeck, described how the firm’s Construction Technology and Innovation team is in the process of developing an app that will let on-site employees sign in to the job site simply by scanning a QR code.
The sign-in will be bundled with a daily personal health survey that workers are required to fill out certifying that they are not showing any symptoms of COVID-19 and have not had contact with anyone symptomatic. While Truebeck adopted a daily personal health survey to screen site personnel a month ago, the practice became a requirement in the new orders.
The app, Caputo said, will eliminate the need for employees to sign in by hand and pass documents, pens and clipboards back and forth, making sure the daily questionnaire process is contactless.
But even with all the lessons they’ve learned over the past few weeks, Truebeck is planning for a measured rollout of employees and craft workers back to its sites.
“At Facebook’s MPK 22 office in Menlo Park, we had over 500 workers on the job site every day,” Caputo said. “To bring that many people back at once is just impractical. We absolutely have to stagger the trades to put them back to work and make sure they’re maintaining our safety protocols.”
Caputo’s plan at the Menlo Park site is to bring in the exterior trades who can close up the building first, then work inwards, shifting to trades that require closer proximity, like drywalling and flooring.
Fortunately, Caputo said, Truebeck staff working on paused projects spent much of their time over the last two months delving into the details of how to reopen their sites as efficiently as possible, including how to move workers safely across the site, where workers could take breaks, how to open up new entrances.
“We’re not starting at zero by any means,” Caputo said. “Part of the company-wide training we’ve been doing involves running through scenarios that our employees might face, like what to do if an employee learned they were exposed outside of the job site.”
In order to win new business in the Bay Area, contractors may need to be able to prove their commitment to communicable disease prevention. According to Truebeck Director of Corporate Marketing & Communications Tiffany Avila, the firm’s disease preparedness protocols have come up as part of every interview with a new potential client.
However, Wycisk said that every contractor should have access to the best possible disease preparedness measures. To that end, Truebeck has been sharing its CDPP with other contractors on the West Coast.
“There are no secrets in safety,” Wycisk said. “This information is not proprietary, it’s something everyone needs to see. We’re in this together, and we’re going to keep as many people healthy as we possibly can.”
This feature was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and Truebeck. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.