The Safe Side: Evolving Safety Challenges Amid a Global Pandemic

Safety is always the most important concern at any jobsite, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made keeping glaziers safe even more complicated. In the beginning of the crisis, CDC guidelines were changing rapidly and glazing contractors had to make quick decisions about which policies and procedures to adopt. Now, approximately seven months later, most companies’ COVID-19 safety plans have stabilized.

Evolving Policies

Early on in the pandemic, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf required that a pandemic safety officer be designated on jobsites in order for projects to continue. District Council 21/Glaziers Local 252 turned to the Finishing Trades Institute of the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Health and Safety department to develop and implement a training program to meet the new requirement.

Steve Metzger, manager of the department, says his team developed its COVID-19 Awareness Program especially with glaziers in mind based on guidelines from the CDC, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

“To make it specific to glaziers I thought about high-touch areas such as shared equipment and tools,” he says.

As the CDC has updated symptoms and put less emphasis on spread through surface contact, Metzger has updated the program.

“I’ve added a video about ultraviolet light and I’ve left the slide about surface contact in but I don’t go into it in as much detail,” he says, adding that everyone who takes the class gets a PDF with resources. “Someone could have taken the class in May but they still need to keep themselves up-to-date. I’ve armed them with that tool so everyone who takes the training has the means to find out how the guidance is changing.”

Joe Clabbers, president of National Glass & Metal Co. in Horsham, Pa., says that while there is less concern about surface transmission, his company still requires glaziers to wash their hands frequently.

“Most, if not all, jobsites have put in handwashing stations that are easily accessible,” he says, adding that hand sanitizers, personal protective equipment (PPE), masks and face shields have also been made available.

In instances where social distancing is not possible, his company distributes face shields for extra protection.

Chris Bagatelos, CEO of Bagatelos Architectural Glass Systems based in Sacramento, Calif., says his company created a COVID-19 incident exposure report for field leads and foreman to use to report incidents.

“That report goes directly to our safety manger,” he says, adding that there are three levels of investigation depending on the risk level identified.

At some jobsites, glaziers are required to scan a QR code and respond to health screening questions in addition to having their temperature checked. Bagatelos purchased new PPE for the union glaziers, such as helmets with a transparent shield attached. In addition, the journeymen and apprentices wear masks and the standard PPE required such as goggles and gloves.

“The mask is standard but if working within 6 feet of another individual they also have to wear the shield,” says Bagatelos.

Courtney Little, president of Ace Glass in Little Rock, Ark., turned to CDC guidance in addition to the advice of local doctors and hospital administrators when crafting his company’s COVID-19 policies. He says that while he implemented mask and social distancing policies early on, some of those restrictions have been loosened as the U.S. gained more knowledge about the virus.

Ace Glass still checks its employees’ temperatures and requires that they self-quarantine if exposed. However, in the beginning of the pandemic the company required self-quarantining for indirect exposures whereas now it’s only required if an employee has experienced a direct exposure. Mask requirements have also been loosened for workers in the shop when spread out. In the beginning they wore masks no matter what.

“We still have people who are more susceptible and they maintain broader safety precautions than the rest of us but we honor those and maintain those stricter guidelines around them,” says Little.

Navigating Issues

Heat is usually a major safety concern for those on the jobsite during the summer, but this year was especially challenging with the addition of compulsory mask wearing, says Little. Ace Glass purchased pallets of bottled water so people could have their own bottles rather than providing big water jugs with ice.

Bagatelos says his company rotates glaziers through different tasks, in teams of two, so they’re not always close/exposed to a different person and can take a break from wearing the shield, mask and goggles.

Metzger says one complaint he often hears is that safety glasses fog up when being worn with a mask. His advice is that glaziers use anti-fog wipes to prevent fogging or that they walk away from other people and pull their mask down quickly to make the fogging disappear.

National Glass & Metal found fog-resistant safety glasses for its workers.

Long-Term Impacts

Not all of the safety protocols that have been implemented due to the pandemic will remain in place post-pandemic, but glazing subcontractors anticipate that some of the recent changes will persist.

“In the past people came into work sick and we didn’t check their temperatures or enforce that they stay home. I think the industry will be more diligent about coming in sick and increase paid days off so the financial pressure won’t be there,” he says. “When you look at the PTO cost versus the loss in productivity it seems to pay off … We have to care for each other by not coming to work sick … Now we’ve realized the second- and third-degree effects of the decision to come to work sick. Your coworker might be fine but you don’t know that they see their mom every night and bring her dinner. COVID-19 has brought to mind how our actions have consequences beyond the person we’re interacting with. The industry has been flippant for a long time but this has been a reality check for all of us.”

Jordan Scott is an assistant editor for USGlass magazine. She can be
reached at jscott@glass.com.

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