By Jordan Scott
During the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT) virtual town hall forum titled, “Returning to Work: COVID-19 Issues and Answers,” guest speaker John Johnson, vice president and director of environmental safety, health and security at Black and Veatch, discussed a standard proposal that could provide guidelines to prevent the spread of diseases in future pandemics.
Johnson is also chair of the ANSI/ASSP A10 committee, which covers safety standards for construction and demolition operations. To start, he explained that there are several important proposals being considering, including one that would create a standard for pandemics and communicable diseases in construction and demolition environments.
“Once you hear about something you ought to start doing things differently,” said Johnson, adding that this standard would provide preplanning guidance of what steps should be taken to prepare for viruses or other diseases that could impact how people live.
“If you look at how the construction industry has handled COVID-19, based on my personal experience, it’s done a phenomenal job of minimizing the spread. I think that’s due to the methodology or mindset that we should jump in front of things as best we can to minimize impacts,” he said. “Construction hasn’t been perfect but generally it’s been at the forefront of putting common controls in place and I’m proud of that.”
Johnson emphasized that the new standard, if approved, would be a step in the right direction to guide future issues.
He and other speakers then opened up the town hall for questions about handling the current COVID-19 pandemic. One question focused on how to handle a situation in which an employee has tested positive for the disease and whether people should be notified.
“Being open and honest in this situation is critical and contact tracing is important,” said Johnson. “We have a decision tree based on CDC guidance.”
At Black and Veatch, the company does contact tracing after an employee has tested positive. An exposure would include someone being within 6 feet of the person for ten minutes. CDC guidance has since been updated from ten to 15 minutes but the company has stuck with the original guidance.
“If there’s been indirect contact we require a 14-day self-isolation period and we expedite testing for them,” he said. “You have to tell people if there’s been a positive case. There are no secrets here because we’re talking about life or death. ‘Yes’ is the simple and most moral answer.”
When asked whether stewards should be trained on how to handle COVID-19, Steve Rank, executive director of safety and health for the Iron Workers, emphasized that everyone should be trained on what the symptoms are, how to social distance and other protocol.
“Everybody needs training and perhaps supervisors do more specifically because they are responsible for the people under their direction. That includes stewards,” he said.
Wayne Creasap, district representative of safety and health for the Iron Workers, reminded attendees that there is free training available.
Rank also answered a question about how to handle people who don’t believe they should wear a mask. He said they don’t have a choice.
“When they walk on a jobsite they have to follow the procedures in place whether that’s wearing a high visibility vest or a mask. If they disagree with the policies and procedures they can disagree, but it comes down to if they want to comply and stay employed or not,” said Rank, adding that there are special circumstances where people may not be able to wear a mask.
Speakers also had attendees answer a poll questions about whether they’d be interested in joining a task force to determine under which conditions iron workers are required to wear masks since some tasks have physical distancing “built-in.”
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