By STEVE MELCO
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt throughout the construction industry. Projects have been canceled or delayed, supply chains have been interrupted, and working remotely has disrupted team communication in this highly collaborative business.
Construction operations at the job site have experienced the most challenges – specifically, those in occupied facilities operating in the healthcare and senior living sectors where safety and wellbeing of the staff, patients, and residents is vital.
Due to the inherent danger in the industry, safety is a top priority among most construction firms. However, when faced with a global crisis such as COVID-19, the construction industry had to adapt to an onset of changes and find new ways to operate safely.
“The success of our company is built around its sound Safety Management Program which involves the participation and cooperation of all company personnel,” Ken Wuenschell, President of WELBRO says. “Our core values are the driver of the development and execution of the procedures and practices that create a safe and healthy work environment for all.”
Depending on the site, the Site Manager will hold a safety meeting once-a-week to once-a-day to ensure the team is up to date on COVID-19 policies. Prior to anyone joining a job site, they must go through an orientation process covering both standard and COVID-19 safety procedures. This process is to be carried out by all employees assigned to the job site including any subcontractor or team member outside of the company assigned to the site as well.
Kevin Boland, safety manager for WELBRO Building Corporation, said the company is following Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. This means regular hand washing at on-site handwashing stations, mask-wearing and social distancing practices are implemented and enforced throughout the company and large posters encouraging safety guidelines are displayed in central areas of the construction site.
“We believe that through educating our workers and implementing the CDC guidelines that we can maintain the construction site as well as the safety of our workers,” said Boland.
In addition to following these guidelines, they currently implement systems such as COVID tracing, scheduled shifts to assist with social distancing and negative air pressure for renovation projects.
For renovation sites, where nursing staff and residents share the space as the construction crew, fire rated Edge Guard Barriers are placed as dividers. Any openings that aren’t blocked off by the barrier system, are secured using fire rated material to ensure the area is completely sealed off. To create negative air pressure, air scrubbers, similar to air purifiers, are used throughout the building to push the air from within the building to the outside. In addition, Dwyer Pressure Gages are used to monitor the air pressures for the site at all times to verify that the occupied side of the building has negative air pressure. This prevents any possibility of potentially contaminated air, dust, or particles from reaching those occupying the space during the renovation.
This method, in conjunction with other procedures, prevented any potential spread of the virus at their recent job site, a renovation for the Westminster Communities in Winter Park.
Some of the procedures included: adherence to the facility’s requirements, limited work area access, air separation barriers, air movement equipment to isolate the work areas, masking of all personnel, hand washing stations, communication with facility personnel prior to entry of occupied areas, proper usage of PPE, sanitization of construction areas every morning, and communication with the facility to ensure updated procedures and processes.
By implementing these procedures, the company was able to keep those working on the site and within the facility safe while maintaining the timeline and projected budget.
“I must also commend WELBRO for their culture of safety,” said the associate executive director of Westminster Winter Park & Baldwin Park. “During the scope of our project, we had the additional layer of complexity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was clear their concern for the health and safety for all stakeholders involved was unwavering.”
The construction industry has been ruled essential work and therefore it is paramount that companies within this industry follow procedures to prevent any potential spread of COVID-19. While following CDC guidelines is a solid starting point, it is critical that these groups take it a step further, especially while operating in highly sensitive areas such as the healthcare and senior living facilities.
It is unclear as to when, or even if COVID-19 will soon cease to be a global battle. For now, maintaining and enforcing strict policies and procedures have proven to limit exposure and further spreading. As work returns to the construction industry, it can be assumed that these new safety measures must be adopted and adapted for the long-haul.
Steve Melco joined WELBRO in 1994, with positions including Project Manager, Senior Preconstruction Manager, and Special Services Director. As Operations Manager, Steve will lead the effort to expand WELBRO’s portfolio in the assisted living and skilled nursing facility area, overseeing all projects in the Senior Living & Healthcare sector. WELBRO Building Corporation was founded in 1979. The company covers over a dozen markets such as healthcare and wellness, senior living, education, industrial, hospitality, and so much more. They offer a broad range of services to clients planning projects such as new construction, additions, and renovations, from pre-construction, consulting to design/build projects. Visit www.welbro.com