To address questions about working on jobsites amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT) hosted a virtual town hall forum titled, “Returning to Work: COVID-19 Issues and Answers.”
Steve Rank, executive director of safety and health for the Iron Workers, informed members that the union has developed a form to report if any members have been infected. Rank encouraged local unions and contractors to send these forms in so leadership will have more accurate numbers.
Among iron workers, there have been 69 reported cases so far, with 64 in the U.S. and five in Canada. Five have died due to COVID-19.
Speakers next discussed changes and misconceptions related to mitigation best practices. Rank explained that the virus is spread most commonly through respiratory droplets during close interactions.
“Wearing a mask is very important so you don’t infect someone else,” he said. “Three months ago we thought surface contamination would be the primary method of contamination but the virus lives much shorter on surfaces than in the air. The preliminary feeling that we should wipe everything down is good and a safe practice, but we’re finding out that’s not the primary method of transmission. Instead airborne droplets are.”
Rank reminded members that those who are older or who have pre-existing conditions are at the greatest risk. He didn’t go over the list of symptoms, but said new symptoms are added to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) website.
Wayne Creasap, district representative of safety and health for the Iron Workers, explained the size of the virus that causes COVID-19. He said it’s around one micron. To put that into perspective, the width of a human hair can be 60-120 microns. A micron is 1/25,000 of an inch.
He also cleared up some misconceptions.
“Thermal scanners cannot detect COVID-19; they just detect temperature. Additional steps need to be taken to determine if someone has it,” said Creasap.
He also emphasized that prolonged use of medical masks, when properly worn, do not cause CO2 intoxication or oxygen deficiency as both can pass through masks easily.
The Iron Worker’s safety department has developed a Dropbox containing COVID-19 resources and sample programs for its members. The kit contains sample posters, checklists, toolbox talks, helpful links and other resources.
Jeff Norris, Canadian safety coordinator for the Iron Workers, outlined the hierarchy of controls used to control exposures to occupational hazards, which he described as being a fundamental method to protect workers. Starting at the top of the inverted triangle, the controls include elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipment (PPE). Elimination is the most effective, but the most difficult to implement.
Elimination protocols include screening workers through self-identification forms, no-touch thermometers and contact tracing. Administrative controls include social distancing, cleaning and handwashing.
“It’s important to provide running water with soap for frequent handwashing. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer as a backup only if providing running water is impossible,” said Norris. “Encourage workers to leave to wash their hands before going to eat and after coughing or sneezing.”
On the PPE level, Norris recommended that where working closely is unavoidable an employer should provide NIOSH-approved respirators
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