Avoid OSHA incidents and stay on bid lists with site check-in tech
By Jenny LescohierMarch 29, 2021
Construction is one of a select group of industries deemed essential throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, but it hasn’t exactly been business as usual.
There have been some important changes to the way work is performed during the past year, including the need for social distancing, face coverings and a renewed focus on hygiene.
In keeping with guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and regulations from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), construction firms are advised to conduct temperature checks and health screening questions for all personnel entering their offices and job sites. In the event of a confirmed case of Covid-19, best practices state contact tracing should be conducted to lessen the spread of disease.
All of the above practices and procedures require considerable time and effort and can add up to significant cost, leaving contractors in need of a way to meet guidelines and requirements while getting work done on time and on budget.
Ending an administrative nightmare
Kyle Peacock, CEO of San Francisco-based Peacock Construction, a $50-million commercial contractor focused primarily on
health care, said the company’s jobs were stalled for a couple months until construction was deemed essential in California last June.
“New Covid regulations had been put in place which allowed us to reopen our jobs, but we’re now required to have a log of everyone that comes on our sites, including their personal contact information, and we need to pre-screen everyone with a list of health-related questions,” he explained.
“That’s fine if you have one job and three to five people, but when you extend that out to 40 jobs, it quickly becomes a monumental task to keep track of all that information.”
Peacock Construction worked with Safe Site Check In to develop an app to assist in the private collection of personal contact and health information. Workers simply use their smartphone to scan a QR code that takes them to a screening questionnaire, which then stores all personal information privately, not within the user’s system.
“We don’t have to record any of that personal information,” Peacock said. “It just gives us a log of everything we asked for and it’s automatically recorded onto Safe Site Check In’s interface. It’s a very cost-effective way to handle what was becoming a significant cost; we were figuring roughly two hours of trade labor per project per day for this.”
What if there’s a Covid case on the job?
Prior to finding a system to assist with this task, if there was a potential Covid infection on the job site, Peacock said it was necessary to weed through thousands of sheets of paper to trace contacts.
“We are by California law (AB-685) required to notify anybody that was potentially in contact with someone with Covid within 48 hours,” Peacock said. “That’s a nightmare with a paper system, but with Safe Site Check In, it takes our admin less than 20 minutes. You just log into the interface, choose the job, pick the dates that the person was potentially there, and then you send a notification out to everybody who was in contact.”
He added, “It has been very effective for us. We haven’t had any Covid transmissions on any of our sites.”
Stay in compliance and keep working
At some construction-related businesses, minimizing the spread of Covid is not just a serious health concern, it’s also a matter of survival for the company.
Ampirical, based in southern Louisiana, is an engineering/construction firm focused on the energy sector, with offices and job sites around the country.
“We’re considered critical infrastructure, so we’re required to get processes and procedures in place to work safely during the pandemic,” said Rod Courtney, health, safety & environmental manager, Ampirical. “And we have to worry about our OSHA incident rate.”
Based on the amount of man hours worked last year, Courtney said if Ampirical exceeded three recordable incidents in 2021, the company would be taken off the bid list for all its major clients for the next three years, and Covid transmissions count as incidents.
“You’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars of work that we would lose,” he said.
Understandably, Courtney called that outcome catastrophic. “We would lose three quarters of our workforce,” he said. “We had to come up with processes and procedures that would prevent that from happening.”
To work effectively, those processes and procedures need to be fast and simple. After trying a few things, Ampirical ultimately went with Safe Site Check In to assist employees in performing a self-check upon getting to work.
“It protects our employees and it covers us from a legal perspective,” Courtney said. “We set it up within a day and we now have eight offices in the system.”
Each Ampirical office displays a poster featuring the QR code. Upon entering an office or job site, employees use their iPhone or Android smartphone to read the code, which instantly takes them to the Ampirical site within the system.
“They answer some Yes or No questions and if they answer No to any of them, the system flags them and tells them Access Denied. Then I can instantly call that employee and say hey, what’s going on?”
Courtney explained Safe Site Check In doesn’t charge per user, but by site. “If you have just one site, it’s $79 per month. For every additional site, it’s another $79. That’s dirt cheap,” he said.
The cure for HR headaches?
Matthew Bickerstaff, human resources and communications manager for Premier Structures, a small general contractor in San Francisco, has spent the past year working to stay on top of constantly changing CDC guidelines and OSHA regulations for the health and safety of the company’s employees.
“I want to make sure that we’re doing our due diligence to stay compliant, and ultimately, keep our guys safe,” he said, adding, “We probably lost about 70% of our projects when Covid hit.”
Bickerstaff said he knew the company needed an action plan for how to deal with the pandemic, and it would require a lot more documentation than ever before.
“A year ago, we had no idea what was going to happen, but we knew we had to try to be prepared. We started doing temperature checks and asking questions about Covid exposure when people entered our job sites. We used a PDF for employees and subcontractors so we could quickly get guys in and out of the job site, but still keep record of Covid-related information in case someone on the site tested positive.
“That was our home-brewed solution, and it was cool because it wasn’t paper based,” he continued. “But the next big
question was how are we going to pay for all this extra time spent dealing with these additional check-in processes?”
To ease the administrative and cost burden, Bickerstaff researched programs to assist, but said most were complicated and came with a lot of back-end programming. “Or they were charging too much, especially for a small company like us - we’re a 10-person general contractor.”
Bickerstaff eventually found Safe Site Check In, which was the only system of its kind designed from the ground up to deal with the challenges created by Covid. It wasn’t a retrofit to a previous application.
“The construction industry is the most dangerous industry, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, so we’re all acutely aware of what we can get fined for,” Bickerstaff said. “We have to carry a lot of liability insurance, and there’s a constant concern over the safety of our workers and the potential costs associated with illness and injuries. While there might have been some reluctance to use a program like this on the technology side, there definitely isn’t on the cost side.”
Since the system launched early last year, Bickerstaff said Safe Site Check In has evolved to add a great deal of additional functionality. “But they’ve done a good job of keeping it simple,” he added.
“The other thing that’s great is that because of privacy issues with medical information, all that information is stored with Safe Site Check In, so as an administrator, I don’t see the responses, I just see whether an employee responded in a way where they get a green light or a red light to be allowed on site. It keeps us out of the liability of seeing private medical records.”
Business data and analytics
In addition to the health and safety benefits, customers have started using Safe Site Check In for other reasons as well. The app is evolving so that construction supervisors and HR know who is on a job site, what they’re doing there, and where exactly they’re located.
Along with those features, customers are using the check in and check out data and analytics for measuring productivity and profitability, identifying HR trends, and making sure that invoices reconcile with hours worked.
“Before the pandemic, the importance of check-in data was often overlooked. Digitizing and modernizing the process enables companies to gather data that impacts nearly every aspect of their business,” said David Ward, CEO, Safe Site Check In. “As companies think about the longer-term benefits of pandemic-initiated protocols, they’re realizing the importance of using check-in apps that capture information in seconds and provide insight to make better business decisions.”