The New Normal: Maneuvering The Covid-Laced Work Life

Words: Joanne Anderson

Words: Joanne M. Anderson
Photos: LukaTDB

The challenges of COVID-19 are countless. The solutions can be sketchy. And once you mix in personalities, politics, and platitudes, well, you just wish you could plumb plaster over it all and go back to the normalcy of the pre-pandemic period. But time marches onward, not backward. There’s something to be said for facing things head-on, formulating plans, policies, and procedures, being prepared and staying flexible as the coming months unfold. 

Respect

Stonemasons and construction workers can find themselves in an office, workshop, garage, tool shed, expansive job site, or cramped indoor project. As such, there may be different rules in each place. The first personal quality to have front and center is Respect. People hold the thought processes, experiences, influence, and belief systems as hard to predict as guessing the coat color of a barn kitten before it’s born.  

Respect for others is ground into us from a young age. It is vitally imperative in this covid-19 season because not only do the viewpoints widely vary, the commitment to one’s particular perspective can be tighter than mortar between bricks. Should you line up with people who share your point of view, terrific. And if and when you don’t, you need to stand down, be respectful, and examine, not the differing covid-related outlooks, but how you achieve the masonry project’s result in front of you. 

Office Environment

Technology has undoubtedly risen to the occasion for office workers who can work from home, connect by phone, email, and video meetings. Many offices will have notices of policies on their websites and posted on their doors. Kevin O’Shea, director of safety and training for AGF Access Group, suggests an office rotation schedule. “Some people can work from home productively, and some may still be needed at the office. By rotating by the days or by the week, everyone’s productivity can remain high.” 

He also suggests new procedures at the office in spacing, of course, and sharing office equipment. “Don’t pass your stapler, share pens or pencils. Even the coffee machine might need some regulation, not waiting too close to someone else for your next cup.”

Many offices remain closed to walk-in traffic, with strict protocols for in-person meetings. Understand expectations before any meeting, and respectfully adhere to the company’s requirements. They may vary from office to office, and you just need to be aware, stay informed, and keep your eye on the project.

Workshop, Garage, and Tool Storage

For stonemasons and construction workers, hand tools, trucks, forklifts, mortar mixers, scaffolding, and all kinds of equipment and gear are needed for the job. Many of these need cleaning, inspecting, maintenance, and repair daily, weekly, and monthly. By now, most companies likely have procedures in place explaining who, where, and how they are handled and managed.

Sanitizer wipes, disposable gloves, clean and used rag bins, and a box of masks at the entrance are reasonable steps to minimize personal infection. Most masons have high-quality hand tools, which they are not especially interested in sharing with anyone. However, it is likely for large projects that workers do not have individual mortar mixers, mast climbers, power washers, and forklifts, for example. These are good places for manpower to be assigned specifically and, as possible, individually to move, clean, maintain and manage such equipment.

Outdoor Job Site

The outdoor job site offers relief from inside buildings, but the first challenge may be worker transportation. It has not been unusual to find 6-7 guys in a double cab pick-up truck heading to a construction site. It might now be necessary to require everyone’s masks and make three trips with fewer people in the truck on each trip. That takes more time, and some will say that time is money, and indeed it is. But sick workers away from the job site translates into no money, so there are trade-offs to be made. 

Some outdoor construction jobs will not require masking in favor of fresh air and trusting folks to keep as much distance as possible between co-workers; others may require that everyone wear a mask while working or visiting an outdoor project. 

Smokers might need to be relegated one at a time to a space away from all equipment, work, and others during cigarette breaks. “I was talking recently with someone who has a 20-person crew,” O’Shea says. “He thought they had taken all the precautions when it came to light that three of them are smokers. They shared a communal smoking area with half a dozen others around 10 a.m. each morning.” 

Smoking may transport all kinds of personal respiratory particles. While there does not seem to be extensive research on smokers and covid patients, Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center is an expert on lung disease who sees patients with covid-19. “When you inhale cigarette smoke, germs, or allergens, your lungs can get irritated, and that irritation unleashes the immune system to fight that irritation. A coronavirus infection on top of that means that your symptom response is going to be amplified,” he relates.

Though much more is to be revealed about the relationship between smoking and the coronavirus, there’s plenty we know now: Smoking is a proven risk factor for cardiovascular disease and lung disease, including lung cancer, which —along with other factors — can put you at higher risk for a severe case of COVID-19.       [Hopkinsmedicine.org]

There’s no better time to plant a tree, or quit smoking, than – today! 

O’Shea recommends creating a bubble crew, “like the bubble you have at home in you and your family, keeping the same workers together each day.” 

Indoor Job Spaces

Some of the biggest challenges in addressing covid concerns arise in interior projects. Homeowners and property managers will have their own sets of rules for health safety, and you may have to implement what makes sense for yourself and your work crew. 

Training

As a world-renown scaffolding and access solutions company, AGF Access Group “provides clients with innovative scaffolding and suspended access solutions for projects of any scale within a diverse range of industries.” [agfaccessgroup.com] This includes offshore oil and gas platforms, bridges and highways, hydroelectric generating facilities, nuclear power plants, and buildings of all heights, sizes, and locations. 

Thus, training is a huge part of their solution-oriented, state-of-the-art access equipment. “Training has moved out of the classroom,” O’Shea explains, “and takes place on the machine. Also, training now involves one operator and one trainer at a time, not several. And, at least for the mast climber, a master runs up the center of the equipment, and the operator can stay on one side at the operator station. The trainer stays on the other side. They are six feet apart, but the trainer can still monitor and train and ensure that an operator is doing things as they should be done. The trainer then sanitizes the control station, and the next operator-in-training comes along.”  

The Future

It’s pretty tricky to make any predictions, but as the vaccine rollout continues and the covid cases decline, policies may change again and again. Be alert, be aware, be prepared, and above all, be respectful. So let’s all take a deep breath and stay focused on the tasks, the jobs, the projects and get them done with the superior quality for which stonemasons are known. 

Joanne M. Anderson is a freelance writer in southwest Virginia and a frequent contributor to MASONRY Magazine.  

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