COVID-19 mask wearing is required when keeping six feet apart is not possible. Having said that, I consider that rule to be inconsistent with the reality of the construction work environment and the nature of our hard-working construction teams. I challenge anyone to show me an instance where a worker has the time to be considering whether they are moving in and out of situations determined by footage proximity. It’s simply not practical and our people are far too busy focussing on doing a professional and safe job to be spending energy on this rule. The solution is to keep your mask on.
Here’s a company-wide email I composed not so long ago:
Subject: Regarding the direction to hold daily safety toolbox meetings covering COVID-19 protocols.
It’s been a difficult year for everyone. Due to recent findings that job site workers are either removing their masks or wearing them incorrectly, we need to firm up our commitment to keeping everyone safe.
Masks are mandatory at all times while on the job site, even when working alone. COVID-19 is airborne and spreads through breathing from the mouth and nose, as well as other airway access. Removing or wearing a mask incorrectly has the potential to contaminate the air around you, and especially with new variants in the pandemic, we don’t know exactly how long that strain stays alive in the air. Let’s not forget that people can be carriers without any symptoms and inadvertently infect those around them.
We do not have control over who might enter the job site every second of the day, especially when working alone. Visitors and other unexpected persons could enter the jobsite and be infected, or you could be infected from their unprotected breath. Crowded jobsites pose an extra severe threat for exposure when mask protocols are not followed.
All job sites have mandated requirements for mask posters on site, instructing how to wear a mask properly. The daily safety meetings are to happen at start of shift and for every shift during the job. This is a touch base, reminder, question and answer session to include mask wearing information.
Daily toolbox safety mask topics:
- State the reason for the meeting.
- Remind people that masks are mandatory at all times on the job site.
- Use the poster to instruct how to wear a mask properly.
- Instruct to always cover the nose and how to do so when wearing a mask.
- If people need some air, they are to go outside and take their mask off while following distancing protocols.
Please be diligent. We’re almost out of this, now is not the time to relax. Keep yourselves, your families and your co-workers safe. No one wants to be the mask police; unfortunately, it falls to us to keep a close eye out to protect ourselves and those around us. When you see someone without a mask, or not wearing a mask properly, that requires immediate corrective action. It cannot wait until break time or one hour or even one minute, it must be corrected on the spot and must be reported in your daily log.
The report is a tool for following up, to ensure our workers are trained to properly wear a mask.
The sentiments I’ve expressed in the above email are heartfelt and if I may say so, applicable to everyone no matter their working circumstances. We need to remind ourselves that COVID-19 mask wearing is essential PPE, just as important as a fall protection harness and other essential PPE.
Be safe. Be well.
James Hong is chief of OHS for the construction industry.
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