Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has called on leaders of the state’s construction industry to develop safety procedures that will allow projects to continue during the coronavirus pandemic.
Construction employs nearly 100,000 people in Nevada, a state of 3 million people, and Sisolak designated it an essential industry in his March 12 coronavirus emergency order.
In late March, he selected Carpenters Union official Frank Hawk to assemble industry stakeholders to develop—and implement—safety protocols for jobsites. The group meets weekly and includes major contractors and union and trade association representatives.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen so many competitors get together to share best practices,” says Hawk, vice president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters’ Southwest Regional Council. “If you hear of something that’s good on one job, you take it to another. I’ve never seen such progress in making jobs safe.”
From face shields on hard hats to body-temperature checks, Hawk says, “Everything I see is exceeding OSHA standards.”
On some big jobs, arriving workers are directed as they come through the gate to immediately wash their hands and apply sanitizer. Contractors have also hired attendants to oversee portable toilet stations.
“These are the cleanest jobsite toilets that I’ve ever seen in my life,” Hawk says.
As the committee was being assembled, the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration wrote a warning letter to contractors saying it was “visibly obvious” that many workers were in too close proximity to one another on jobsites.
Hawk said his union supports holding workers accountable if they ignore safety rules, likening it to failure to wear fall protection. “But with this, it doesn’t just affect the individual, it affects everyone out there.”
The round-the-clock media coverage of the pandemic is reinforcing the safety message.
“We’ve reiterated to our folks how important this is, but with the gravity of what they’re seeing, they know what’s at stake,” says Marc Markwell, CFO with Sierra Nevada Construction in the Reno suburb of Sparks.
“Things are changing rapidly,” says Markwell, who is also vice president of the Nevada chapter of the Associated General Contractors, which is represented on the safety panel.
“We are investing to keep our employees safe and people in the community safe,” he says. He points to efforts such as limiting the size of toolbox meetings, enforcing social distancing and increased the sanitization of equipment.
In Las Vegas, construction has been halted on the MSG Sphere arena and the Resorts World and Drew resorts, but neither Hawk nor Markwell says they’ve seen widespread stoppages because of the pandemic.
“There’s a little hesitation on work that’s not yet out of the ground,” Markwell says. “We’re still busy, but we have a new normal.”
The safety group includes: Yvette Lanau (WA Richardson), John Cannito (Penta), William Richardson (WA Richardson), William Stanley (Southern Nevada Building Trades), Mike Dean (MJ Construction), Guy Martin (Martin Harris Construction), Paul Didzinzki (McCarthy), Lou DeSalvio (Laborers Union), Mike Hawk (Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters), Sean Stewart (Nevada Contractors Association), Eric Grenz (Mortenson), Craig Madole (Nevada AGC), and Paul McKenzie (Building & Construction Trades Northern Nevada).