March 26, 2020

Emergency Preparedness: COVID-19 and Lessons We are Learning

The IECRM Monthly Safety Forum was the perfect opportunity for IECRM members and partners to come together on a live-online forum to discuss COVID-19, workplace issues, and the impact on electrical contractors by this current health crisis. Four subject-matter experts and 65 IECRM members and staff participated on Wednesday, March 25th in the 90-minute webinar.

Expert guests included:

  • Eugene Wade, Executive Director of the Colorado Emergency Preparedness Partnership, and advises Colorado Governor Jared Polis and his response team on private sector coronavirus issues.
  • Kristin White, a safety, OSHA, labor and employment attorney with Fisher & Phillips.
  • John Crawmer, Safety Services Supervisor with Pinnacol Assurance.
  • Dustin Green, General Superintendent and Safety with Integrity Electric.

Here are links to the video, the audio-only, and a list of websites and resources referred to in the Forum.

4 common themes emerged from the discussions:

Trusted Information resources

All panelists agreed that remaining calm and referring only to trusted sources of information like the Centers for Disease Control, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Help Colorado Now were paramount to sifting through the ever-changing and abundant information. The experts presented their biggest concerns through the lens of their specific expertise.

“We are getting a lot of questions about COVID-19 and aligning ourselves with trusted resources,” said John Crawmer. “What is truly essential to employers is to remain calm and focused on what is essential right now.”

Dustin Green chimed in, “At Integrity Electric, I’m currently visiting projects and encouraging social distancing. If anyone is sick, we follow CDC guidelines about staying and home and are tracking our hours lost separately from PTO.” He also mentioned that the biggest challenge at the worksite is when someone coughs. “GC’s and employees have started wearing masks, but it’s still such a moving target and no one knows exactly how to handle this situation.”

Many questions revolved around what makes a situation OSHA-recordable and how to navigate Workers Compensation.

Kristin White talked about evidence of workplace exposure being important. “Confirmed cases through testing are OSHA-recordable and eligible for Workers Comp,” she said. “If you cannot provide proof that a worker caused or contributed to COVID-19, it is not OSHA-recordable. OSHA requires three things: That the case is a confirmed case of COVID-19, the case is work-related, and the case involves one or more employees.”

She also recommended that contractors not edit their PTO policy, but rather track the hours separately. “There are very strict rules and requirements for sick leave compensation being specified in the new federal legislation coming out for companies with under 500 employees,” she said. “If you have over 500 employees, you can manage your own sick leave and PTO policies.”

Communication is key

A great deal of emphasis was placed on communication, and the critical role employers play in building and maintaining trust. According to a recent trust barometer survey conducted by a highly-regarded communications firm, Edelman, the most reliable source of communication in this environment is the employer.

Integrity Electric is ramping up its communication, starting an employee newsletter to share information. AGC is doing the same as well as fact-checking and sharing information. Fisher Phillips has turned its website into a COVID resource of information at no charge to help interpret the new laws coming out and provide templates for talking to employees. Weifield Group Contracting’s CEO is leading their communications and messaging. IECRM itself is providing daily updates via a multitude of platforms and channels.

CDC standards in the field

Adhering to CDC standards in the field is challenging, especially with construction deemed “essential.” Patrick Conlan asked, “Is anyone concerned with the moral and ethical issues of continuing to build non-essential structures and projects, putting workers and the larger community at risk?”

“This question comes up with many contractors,” said IECRM CEO Marilyn Akers Stansbury. “It’s a conversation that is continuing not only in contracting but in hospitals and grocery stores. Also, those organizations require maintenance and repairs to remain operating smoothly, requiring electrical contractors to provide service… sometimes placing themselves in harm’s way.”

When you are an essential business and are continuing to adhere to CDC guidelines, what do you do about employees refusing to work?

“According to OSHA, it is acceptable to refuse to work if that employee is in imminent danger or in an at-risk demographic,” said Kristen. “But before patently accepting the refusal, have a conversation with that employee and probe them about what will make them feel safe. It’s a tough situation and must be documented so that it is evident that you have done everything possible to alleviate their concerns.”

With the new federal legislation coming out, it could be mandated that there be extra paid leave. For a smaller company, that could become burdensome. 

“In order for a worker to be eligible for the new paid sick leave, they must provide evidence that they have a healthcare provider recommendation,” Kristen said. “If you employ 50 people or less, you can document and provide reasons that you cannot ‘afford’ to handle the extra mandated paid leave.”

Evaluate, eliminate, and avoid risks

The important measures to take are evaluating risks, eliminating risks, and avoiding risks. Eugene Wade said, “PPE is the last line of defense. But, you must be very careful about the various scam artists taking unfair advantage of this crisis. The CEP Partnership has found that through vetting these people, they are not all legitimate.”

In fact, there are a number of different scams targeting individuals and companies. “Watch out for your privacy,” said Marilyn. “Beware of robocalls offering to expedite a stimulus check.”

Not being able to remain six feet apart on the job is the new job hazard that employers need to pay close attention to and take steps to make ‘social distancing’ possible. Provide gloves, hardhat face shields, hand washing stations, and hand sanitizer. It’s not entirely perfect but is the best we all can do at this stage.

A recording of this forum is available along with an index of reliable
information links. To participate in future Member Forums During the Times of Covid-19, please register through our events pages.