Protecting businesses and workers in the time of Covid-19

How one firm drew up guidelines, procedures as pandemic hit
Helmet And Protective Mask On A Dark Table. Protection Against Adverse Conditions At Work. Dark Background.

Helmet and protective mask on a dark table. Protection against adverse conditions at work. Dark background.

Being accountable to ourselves and our co-workers to follow procedure and protect each other has been fundamental to the safety record at GZA. This integrated approach has been key to our response to Covid-19, both in the company and in the field, as essential construction and real estate work continues.

In early 2020, CEO Patrick Sheehan tasked a pandemic preparedness team with developing and implementing field procedures and internal resources to manage risk for essential work. In early March, the decision was made to have employees work remotely where possible as a matter of safety. As the extent of the pandemic became clearer, like many essential businesses and operations in New Hampshire, we drew on these internal measures to help our clients with navigating the pressing challenges they suddenly faced.

We quickly set up a public-facing Covid-19 response resource center on our website, posting our internal resource guide for currently operating sites as an example and template, and assembled federal, state and local publications and information as an easy-to-use clearinghouse for all who needed it.

The unfolding situation has demanded creativity and a rapid response. Clients were confronting questions that ranged from whether essential remediation work could be launched in a shortened construction season to what was needed to reoccupy project sites and offices where someone was potentially infected. We have met those needs in many ways:

  • We developed a science-based, expert-supervised deep cleaning and disinfection validation service, drawing on our industrial hygiene practice. This has been particularly important for sites with an unconfirmed risk of Covid-19 and has allowed clients to continue essential work and reopen closed sites.
  • We designed a program, Project Quickstart, to address the shortened construction season and the opportunity to conduct work at sites and facilities that would normally be occupied but were dormant due to stay at home initiatives. Designed for work that’s predictable, urgent, and familiar, such as soil remediation and tank removal, we draw on our decades of environmental, geotechnical, ecological, water, and construction management experience to reduce the number of steps needed to break ground.
  • A team from across the company, including our Bedford office, developed an infectious disease preparedness and response plan once OSHA issued official guidance as a baseline for risk assessment. This freely available PDF is designed to walk companies through their engineering and administrative safety controls to get a sense of their level of compliance and risk, and what changes they may need to make going forward.
  • We developed programs based on FEMA declarations to guide clients through the recovery process and lift some of the pressure that comes with multiple essential demands. Cost recovery has become a concern for municipal and state clients who must continue essential infrastructure work yet have an overall budget that must be maintained.
  • We developed compliance tools to assist in following evolving state guidance while maintaining timelines and safety.

To assist with ongoing essential work and reopening initiatives, we developed a “Daily Check-in” smartphone app and a separate “Work Site Authorization” app for New Hampshire employers, employees and contractors:

  • The Daily Check-in app helps employees monitor and document their work status and advises them, based on the data, whether they are cleared to work at job sites or offices and when they should stay home. The app translates the data into a green light (go about your regularly planned work), a red light (not authorized, must stay home), or a yellow light (higher risk, strongly encouraged to work from home).
  • The Work Site Authorization app assists project owners with tracking and managing contractor authorization to work at project sites and ensuring each authorized individual has access to the project Covid-19 requirements and the appropriate Covid-19 job hazard analysis information.

New Hampshire is, as of this writing, taking measured steps to reopen the economy, implementing a stepwise approach, and taking care to protect the health of its citizens with feedback from business, industry, and other stakeholders.

While the future remains difficult to predict, the guidance we’ve developed has been compared to federal and state guidance and meets or exceeds provisions in them all to date. The resilience and adaptability of our essential workforce is strong evidence that New Hampshire will quickly recover and soon return to a more vibrant and healthy economy.

Kenneth Boivin and Jeffrey Rowell are senior vice presidents and Richard Ecord is director of safety and learning at GZA, a national geotechnical, environmental and construction management services firm with offices in Bedford, Keene and Meredith in New Hampshire.

Categories: Real Estate & Construction, Workplace Advice