“What’s going to happen? Do we have to shut down?”
“What about the projects? What about the workers?”
“Are we essential?”
“I don’t know - How do we find out?”
Hard to believe that it was just a little over a year ago that my coworkers and I were asking each other these very questions. The COVID pandemic seemed to hit suddenly and most of us have never lived through anything like it before. Like most people in the world, we all went through the varied stages of confusion, fear, and stress. Sometimes all in one day. To be honest – sometimes all within one hour.
The one thing we could do to maintain a sense of control of the situation was to take action, and upon hearing that the construction industry was indeed considered one of the “Essential Businesses” here in the state of Oklahoma, developing a COVID Safety Plan was our first step. As a construction company, safety is our priority every day. It is number one on our list of company values here at Ellsworth and it is a responsibility we all share. We have safety measures in place already, including the use of PPE, holding safety meetings every morning at every jobsite, periodic safety trainings for all employees, numerous policies, procedures, etc. but a pandemic-specific plan needed to be implemented immediately and communicated effectively. With this in mind, the following procedures were put into place:
Communication – Weekly emails were sent out to foremen, supervisors, management, and office personnel. These emails included information that the local health department released, flow charts informing employees what to do in the event of a positive case, and information regarding new safety measures. Physical newsletters with this information were sent home with field employees in their paychecks as well. With circumstances changing quickly, monitoring, and communicating new information as soon as possible was of utmost importance.
Office Closing/Remote Work – The office was closed to outside visitors and any employees that did need to come into office were required to wear masks and social distance. Meetings were held by video calls or via conference calls. Office personnel worked from home half of the week and split shifts throughout the week so less people would be in the office space at one time.
Additional Safety Measures – Employees began practicing social distancing both in the office and out in the field. We also started sanitizing all tools, heavy equipment, shared office surfaces, individual work trucks, and shared facilities. Ride sharing and handshaking were no longer permitted.
Infection Control – Verbal health certifications were performed every morning before work began, among all crews. Anyone that had symptoms or had been exposed to anyone with COVID was sent home and Employee Relations was immediately informed. The remaining crew would then take additional measures. This included daily temperature checks and written Daily Health Certifications. If an employee was found to have a positive case, all employees that they were in contact with were informed (while maintaining the confidentiality of said employee.)
We managed to make it through the year with a few positive cases, but we are proud to say that with the cooperation of every single employee, we were able to contain the virus and not one of our cases were spread to any other employee.
Keeping everyone safe, healthy, and employed was, and still is, our focus every single day. Luckily, we never had to lay off employees and business continued, although maybe not “as usual”, as the saying goes. Adjusting to the new safety protocols took some getting used to for everyone. The emails and reminder memos were frequent, but we knew that we had to keep these new measures in the forefront of everyone’s minds. Our team pulled together, and our leaders set examples for their crews that were paramount in keeping us all healthy and able to continue working.
The year 2020 was not one that any of us were prepared for and while we are not completely out of the woods yet, we have made some incredible changes and have proven how resilient we are in times of uncertainty.
There will always be roadblocks, bumps in the road and unexpected detours on the way to any destination. However, planning your route and getting there safely are what really matters most.