Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Construction work progresses thanks to crew vigilance

By Hannah Britt

It's been almost a year since our state started experiencing the first effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic. This meant some adjustments at our construction sites and we are seeing the results of implementing successful safety protocols on all our highway construction projects.

Initially, construction projects across the state were paused when Governor Inslee issued the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. That meant a temporary work stoppage on 65 of our construction sites. Crews used that time to develop and implement new COVID safety protocols so they could safely restart work and move forward. Today, the rate of COVID-positive tests on our construction projects is considerably lower than the statewide average, and all cases are believed to be from exposure off the job.  
The SR 520 Montlake project in Seattle sat empty in March and April 2020 until statewide COVID-19 safety guidelines were adopted and new procedures enacted to allow construction to resume safely.

Scaling down while keeping fish moving 
During the initial construction pause, work continued on fish passage projects so they could stay on track to meet the deadline of the federal court order. Our Construction and Safety offices followed state and federal recommendations to keep those workers safe while protocols were developed for all construction projects.
The Minter Creek fish passage project on SR 302 in Pierce County was one of the projects that remained active in the months of the pandemic.

All in the details – resuming construction 
Our staff joined other agencies and the Governor's office to develop the safety protocols needed to safely resume construction projects statewide. They had to consider the best ways to resume work while learning about COVID-19 risks and how to mitigate them, all while the world was still learning about the spread of this new virus. 

A limited amount of low-risk activities resumed in Phase 1 in May 2020, and the rest of construction activities resumed in Phase 2 later that month. We worked with our contractors and sub-contractors to implement the Governor's new safety protocols (pdf 213 kb) on each site. Where would the hand washing stations go? How would each employee check their temperature? Who would ensure the protocols were being followed? In some cases, it was like trying to learn how to ride a bike all over again, with pedals six feet apart. The staff on each project worked out the details before crews reported – again – for their first day on site. 

Construction site changes - PPE 
Job sites look and operate a little differently with new safety measures. Crews must take their temperature before reporting for work, wear COVID-19 personal protective equipment and stay six feet apart. If a task requires that crews be within six feet, they must wear even more PPE. All crews are required to attend a COVID-19 training to learn about site-specific protocols to follow the statewide guidelines.
Crews on the SR 520 Montlake project must stop at the temperature check station each day before beginning work.

Making progress while keeping safety first 
These safety precautions are working! If a crew member is exposed to COVID-19, they must quarantine to keep their fellow employees safe. As of Dec. 31, 2020, there were 30 confirmed COVID cases on our construction projects, an infection rate of .006 (six people per 1,000). The statewide rate, as of Jan. 4, 2021, is .034 or 34.2 people per 1,000. We're still sorting out how the pandemic effected many project schedules, but we're proud of both our construction staff and partners who keep projects moving along safely!