Practically impossible

Columns - Editor’s Focus

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May 4, 2020

The impact of COVID-19 has been immense across the construction, demolition and C&D recycling industries.

For many across the U.S., work has been put on hold or significantly slowed.

According to a survey conducted by Construction & Demolition Recycling, 30.65 percent of respondents reported having one or more of their facilities ordered closed by state officials or having one or more facilities idled voluntarily by an operational decision due to COVID-19. For those businesses that handle material generated at construction or demolition sites, 29.03 percent said inbound flow had been severely affected, 30.65 percent said inbound flow had been moderately affected and 6.45 percent said inbound flow had been affected on a minor level.

In another survey conducted by the National Demolition Association, 29.91 percent of respondents said they have had stoppages on one to three projects, 22.22 percent have had stoppages on four to six projects, 7.69 percent have had all projects suspended by the owner and/or general contractor, and 3.42 percent have made the operational decision to suspend projects.

Additionally, in terms of backlog, 54.7 percent of respondents said they are one to three months on hold, suspended or cancelled; 3.42 percent said they are four to six months on hold, suspended or cancelled; and 2.56 percent said all projects have been suspended.

For companies that are still operating, many are taking strict precautionary measures to keep staff safe. Manual sorting personnel are being spread out on picking lines; the use of PPE is being enforced across industries; contractors are relying on toolbox talks, physical separation, and prevention plans to keep workers safe on job sites; and workforces are being reduced for both safety and economic reasons.

But as more and more companies get back to work as states loosen restrictions, the question will be on how to make sure workers are being safe in a way that is conducive for productivity. Inevitably, there will be friction—and potentially a divide in some instances—between what safety guidelines dictate and what is practical in the workplace.

Try as companies might, there is only so much that can be done to check every box when it comes to compliance. Even for jobs where physical separation might be possible, how do you keep workers segregated in common areas, breakrooms, trailers and restrooms? How do you sanitize every shared piece of equipment or every surface that workers might come into contact with? How can you monitor every employee to make sure they’re abiding by the rules, and even more fundamentally, how do you go about monitoring who may or may not be showing symptoms of the virus as some are recommending?

These are questions each individual company will need to answer, but for industries that traditionally champion safety above all else, I can’t help but think that settling for “good enough” when it comes to COVID-19 prevention might be the best that can be hoped for as Americans try to return to some semblance of normalcy, and productivity, at work.