Kelvin Lafond is the corporate safety director at Urban. In this role, he is responsible for directing, developing, and overseeing the firm’s general health and safety policies and procedures. Kelvin’s position has become ever more important as we face the COVID-19 pandemic. He is a Certified Safety Professional and Associate Safety Professional through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, and an Associate Safety and Health Manager certified by the Institute for Safety and Health Management. We talked to the military veteran – who also has experience working in federal and corporate environments – about what people working in construction or from home can do to stay safe, and what workplace safety may look like moving forward.
A: There are many aspects of site work that could allow staff to avoid the spread of COVID-19, like the natural distancing that occurs and being outside the confines of an office. That being said, there are many commonsense guidelines that we have implemented at construction and field sites to enhance safety and further combat the spread of disease.
Posters are now placed at sites, encouraging staff to stay home when sick; exercise proper cough and sneeze etiquette; and maintain correct hand hygiene. It is recommended that all staff wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), and not share their PPE with others. Staff should also change their work clothes before arriving home, and put the clothes immediately in the laundry to be sanitized.
Many social norms at construction sites have had to change. Staff can no longer greet each other by shaking hands – other non-contact methods should be used. People should not congregate for lunch and will have to keep space from one another when they eat. All non-essential, in-person meetings need to be avoided. When meetings are required to discuss activities on a jobsite, participants should be in an open well-ventilated area, standing up wind, if possible. They should also be held with the fewest number of employees needed. More detailed guidelines are available through OSHA.
A: It is important for those who are working from home to have a defined schedule and stick to it. Avoid sleeping in or lingering over breakfast, and get to work just as if you’re driving across town to your office, although you might just be walking into the next room.
Staff should confine their workspaces to a specific area in their home so their job doesn’t intrude into the lives of other household members. When sitting, it is best to assume a relaxed, tension-free posture in the neck and shoulders. The National Safety Council recommends keeping your elbows at a 90-degree angle with your wrists protected from sharp or hard edges, and in a neutral position. It is best to have your mouse at the same height and distance from the screen as your keyboard, with the screen positioned at eye level. The National Safety Council also suggests positioning your feet flat on the floor – or supported by a footrest – and to ensure that you have adequate lower back support.
At the end of your workday, it is best to step away from your computer and electronic devices. As a baker would leave their kitchen or a carpenter would hang their tools, it is best to separate yourself from work so you can decompress.
A: While working from home, it is important that staff pay attention to their physical and mental health. There are many calming and relaxing things one can do at home. Meditation and yoga are great tools to relax and stretch the mind and body. Jumping jacks, crunches, and pushups are easy exercises anyone can do in their living room. Make it a routine.
If you are able to, it is great to take a walk while maintaining social distancing and wearing a mask, if required. This is a beneficial exercise and can also help relax and clear your mind. If it is more challenging to move outside, consider brisk walks up and down stairs in or around your home to get in the movement your body needs in the day.
Always remember to eat healthy and hydrate. Most of our routines have been disrupted, so we need to develop new ones around food and drink. Also, be sure to have good lighting and avoid the glares on your screen at home. Consider positioning a desk lamp near your computer and avoid putting your screen directly in front of a window or white wall. This will lessen the burden on your eyes.
A: The main thing employers should be doing to keep staff safe is communicate. At Urban, we have made it a priority to get as much information out to our staff as possible. Before anyone returns to an office, employers need to communicate and confirm building protocols and make sure they are understood by staff before anyone steps foot back in a building or field trailer. They will also need to let employees know the protocols for visitors, social distancing, housekeeping, and other regular office operations like sharing materials and equipment. Employers should provide training and guidance to all employees – whether in the office or in the field – on proper hygiene, social distancing, and signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
A: We will be seeing a new normal, even when this pandemic is over. For now, we will continue to see a lot more remote work. Work in an office will likely be done in shifts for those who definitely need to be there. This will assist in limiting exposure and protect employees who may be at high risk.
A: Social interactions are going to be changing for many of us at work. Personal work stations will need to be consistently sanitized, and things that were not done digitally will be moved online to limit exposure. At Urban, we have developed guidelines for staff and managers to follow in case an employee exhibits symptoms of COVID-19. We also have implemented protocols for staff who have contracted the disease, been in contact with someone who was symptomatic, and been in the proximity of someone who has tested positive for the disease. These guidelines will help ensure the safety of other staff and minimize the risk of spread as much as possible. Employers around the country would be smart to do the same.