DJC Op-Ed: To continue construction, companies must commit to safety

Mike Salsgiver

By: Mike Salsgiver
Executive Director, AGC Oregon-Columbia Chapter

This article was published by the DJC on April 14 in Buildings bridges and Roads, and can be viewed here (subscription required).

What a difference a month makes.

At the beginning of March 2020, the construction economy – both nationally and in Oregon – continued its blazing performance. Volumes were at record highs, employment was at record levels, and companies were clamoring for additional workers. The dip or recession many people had forecast after five record years still had not materialized. The pipeline of work seemed strong for at least another year.

In mid-March, the economy of the entire world hit a wall – one we have come to know as “COVID-19.”

The coronavirus pandemic quickly brought about change in all aspects of our lives. No one is left untouched by its effects. Acting on concerns that the virus was new, that immunity to it was not present, that it was more contagious than other viruses, and that it was especially threatening or deadly to vulnerable citizens, government began to enact unprecedented and sweeping limits on social and economic activity. The result has within weeks brought the American economy to its knees.

Early on in the COVID situation, AGC strongly made the case that construction is essential to the ongoing economic stability of our state. Ensuring our roads and buildings are safe and sound and our schools are ready for the next class of students to come and go is crucial to our state’s continued economic success.

Already broad and strong, we’ve taken additional steps to strengthen our industry partner network here in Oregon, throughout the region, and across the country. We are working closely with our colleagues in the Oregon Home Builders Association, Southwest Washington Contractors Association, the National Association of Minority Contractors–Oregon and others to share information, align messages, and support one another in our work.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s executive order charging all Oregonians to stay at home imposed six-foot social distancing requirements, ordered nonessential and nonprofit organizations to immediately implement telework or remote work arrangements, and ordered companies to immediately designate a social distancing officer to oversee and enforce social distancing requirements at the job site level.

Our industry has taken the threat of infection and community spread very seriously. We moved quickly in mid-March, taking action to protect our members and their companies and employees.

The construction industry has long had an unwavering commitment to the safety and health of every worker. It’s vital that companies do their part to push for additional safety measures. The message I recently passed on to our members was to continue that commitment to safety as safeguarding workers is of the utmost importance. Our industry is only as successful as our safety practices.

We’re suggesting further measures be added to existing protocols. Through social distancing reminders each morning, the additions of handwashing stations, and reinforcement of workplace hygiene protocols, we’re seeing the best in our members. We’re sharing pictures from member companies on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn showcasing their social distancing practices and new methods of keeping employees safe and six feet apart.

Many priorities have emerged in this time of crisis, including the need to ensure the construction industry continues to operate, with proper job site safety and health guidelines being followed, social distancing requirements in place, and provision of resources to our members – to any contractor, in fact – that needs the information to work safely.

We quickly retooled our website to make it easier for members and visitors to make all our job site safety and health information available online. We have also moved to ensure that the latest news impacting our industry is available. From regulatory announcements, state agency news and legislative actions to safety protocols, we’re continually updating the stream of information.

Additional actions included: interpreting Gov. Brown’s and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s respective executive orders and communicating their directions, distributing job site guidelines with tips for setting up a social distancing officer and defining the role, and developing a legal and financial checklist.

The demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) isn’t slowing down. We sent a request to our members for them to donate undesignated supplies to health care professionals. From face masks to hand sanitizer, our industry stepped up to make donations.

Our chapter worked with our partners to inform state and local officials about the importance of keeping construction going to economic survival. Federal, state and local officials have relied on our assurances that social distancing, the use of PPE, and monitoring entrances of people into job sites creates a safe environment for work to continue.

Despite all of these efforts, there is still the possibility that construction in Oregon could be stopped. Contractors and workers must continue to take this situation seriously and execute the proper precautions. Any lapse in safety protocols can and likely will raise public concern that will prompt government officials with the stroke of a pen to reverse the industry’s ability to continue to operate. That is why ensuring that safe practices are known, understood and followed by everyone is paramount. AGC has resources to assist in that effort and will continue to share those safety resources to any and all members of the construction community, regardless of whether they are members of our association. The public is counting on all of us to do our part to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

As long as construction is allowed to continue, we will move forward to keep Oregon building.

Mike Salsgiver is the executive director of Associated General Contractors’ Oregon-Columbia chapter. Contact him at 503-685-8305 or mikes@agc-oregon.org.

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