Wisconsin’s Guides to ‘Safe at Work’

By Rebecca Kleefisch, ABC of Wisconsin Jobs Ambassador

Rebecca Kleefisch portrait

Wisconsin has fresh hope for an eventual “return to normal” with the most-recently issued emergency order to combat the coronavirus pandemic, but the “new normal” may temporarily look a little different.

The construction industry knows what that’s like. After the coronavirus swept the country, construction workers – like delivery people, truckers, grocers and others – kept working, albeit with even more stringent safety standards. That’s why Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin and its members stand ready to help our neighbors and friends in the economy navigate how to re-enter this state of “semi-normal” … safely. We have done it, and we want to share how.

Construction can’t really press “pause” indefinitely. Hospitals need improved infrastructure to get people well in better ways. Families need infrastructure maintained to protect drinking water, ensure electricity and keep communication open. Businesses, schools, governments and households need infrastructure built for evolving expectations and growing needs.

So, when COVID-19 started ripping through our nation, the construction industry had to act fast to figure out how to achieve both safety and continued results. Turns out they were good at solving that puzzle, because building safely is what they do every day.

On construction sites across Wisconsin today, there are new safety procedures geared toward keeping workers healthy. There are more hand-washing stations and tool sanitation. Portable restrooms are changed more frequently, the hand sanitizer level is checked more frequently, and jobsite door handles are disinfected more frequently. Some companies have chosen to tent entry points and take workers’ temperatures at a distance to make sure they don’t come to the job with a fever. Other contractors have workers record their own temperatures and answer a series of health questions before they come on-site. There are social distancing rules that trigger ingenuity: workers are performing tasks on a lift one at a time, using masks regularly, and taking breaks in their vehicles instead as a group in trailers.

ABC has even worked with apprenticeship instructors and the Wisconsin Technical College System to ensure the apprentice pipeline does not get clogged. Apprentices are following the extra safety and wellness protocols for their jobsite learning and have shifted their classroom studies online.

Plato once said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Indeed, it is necessary to both protect public health and build the public’s infrastructure. That is why ABC and its members have invented safety and wellness procedures that prove Wisconsin does not have to choose between health and economic activity. We are doing both, so people get what they need – the building – and not what they don’t – becoming sick.

As Wisconsin navigates the return to “normal,” the construction industry is ready to help. We’ve learned a lot from our experiences. Whether our safety policies are used as best practices for manufacturers or tourism destinations, or our experiences in online apprenticeship are shared with K-12 educators and colleges, we want others to benefit from our new understanding of what works to keep people safe.

The construction industry is not exempt from the risk of exposure to the virus, but safety precautions like the ones implemented into everyday construction will be a great service toward opening other sectors of our economy cautiously and safely.

“Safe at work” is possible. There is a path out of this crisis, and we’re happy to show people the way we’ve taken so far.

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