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As construction is now under way in many regions of the country, the potential risk of COVID-19 infection heightens the need for new safety protocols on the jobsite.

Contractors nationwide are implementing policies and procedures based on guidance from the Occupational Health & Safety Administration and Centers for Disease Control—such as frequent hand washing, proper cough etiquette and the use of face masks—and are educating their workers on these new requirements. At the same time, contractors are encouraging workers who feel sick to stay and home. Many are looking for ways to minimize close contact by spreading workers across the jobsite or having them work in shifts, whenever possible.

Most of these procedures focus around two key issues: the need for social distancing and contact tracing. The very nature of a jobsite makes it challenging to address these concerns. In an environment with hundreds of workers coming and going, it is near impossible using traditional methods to know which workers are onsite, where they are working and how far apart they are from each other.

When it comes to contract tracing, the movement of workers around the site throughout the day makes it extremely difficult to know who was where and when. And, with dozens of subcontractors onsite at a time, it is also hard for workers to identify everyone they came in contact with, by name.

Forward-thinking contractors are turning to innovative technologies such as “internet of things” sensors to help them create a safer environment for their workers. Following are some of the ways the tech is being applied.

Gaining visibility across the site. Wearable sensors, worn on a worker’s belt, can automatically record workers as they enter and leave the site as well as track their location by floor and zone as they move about throughout the day. This data provides supervisors with a real-time view across the site so they can find a specific worker, track the progress of work, and, importantly, keep an eye on worker density to determine if they need to move workers to different areas. And, because they can view this data remotely on their dashboards, it precludes the need for site supervisors to continually walk around the jobsite, limiting additional, unnecessary exposure.

Assisting with social distancing. Internet of things devices can help workers maintain the proper distance from each other, so they don’t have to constantly be thinking about it, and instead can focus on their work. These sensors emit an alarm that alerts workers when they get too close to each other, so they can follow social distancing guidelines, and also helps to modify worker behaviors by making them aware of appropriate distances. 

Conducting contact tracing. If someone tests positive for COVID-19, it results in an imprecise process of try to figure out who the worker may have inadvertently infected through contact. Without technology this is a daunting, near-impossible task requiring workers to recall—and be able to identify—who might have been working alongside them over a period of time. Internet of things technology solves this problem. Every time a worker comes in close contact with another, the wearable sensor records and collects this data, including the duration of close contact. Then, if a confirmed case of COVID-19 arises, an employer can conduct contact tracing using the historical data captured passively by the worker’s device to identify who might have been exposed.

With this information, companies can determine the appropriate steps they need to take to avoid further transmission, such as who should be in mandatory or precautionary quarantine according to the CDC guidelines. This information will also help the contractor determine if the site can continue to operate safely and avoid the need to shut down operations entirely.

Reducing exposure at check in. Often sites assign a person to check in workers as they enter and leave the site, exposing the worker to hundreds of people in a day. Wearable sensors eliminate this problem by automating worker check-in and capturing data for time and attendance. An automated check-in process is also safer for the workers themselves, eliminating a crowd of people waiting their turn to sign in.

Construction workers are considered essential personnel in many regions across the country, working on jobsites in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. To meet the new challenge, contractors are incorporating new safety practices and innovative technologies that promote appropriate social distancing and enable contact tracing in the event of COVID-19 exposure. In this new unprecedented time, contractors are rising to the occasion to provide a safer jobsite environment and provide a new, safer way forward as sites begin to go back to full operations. 


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