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With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic creating a massive disruption to everyday life, construction project jobsites were no exception. To keep critical construction projects moving forward and provide a level of protection to site crew members and their families, the aviation commercial fueling project management teams at Burns & McDonnell implemented a strategic and high-tech contact tracing solution to overcome these challenges.
The contact tracing technology was incorporated across multiple critical infrastructure jobsites to promote social distancing and trace employee proximity when needed. Badges were physically worn by site personnel to determine if and how much close contact an individual had with someone who was exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19 on-site.
A Critical Solution
Using such an innovative technology solution prevented projects from being shutdown as a result of entire crews heading into quarantine, uncertain of how many workers had been directly exposed to an individual testing positive with COVID-19. While some work completed at a construction site means workers inevitably share a space, the badges provided a solution to quickly and effectively trace employee contacts.
An instantaneous project shutdown could mean putting a project weeks behind schedule and leaving many employees out of a job and paycheck. Six feet is often a difficult distance to judge with social norms dictating individuals stand much closer to talk or otherwise work together. The wearable badge helped alleviate this issue by alerting an individual if they came within close contact of another site member, effectively encouraging social distancing. The optional technology was determined to be a solution the team could quickly work to implement to keep projects on track. While wristbands and other wearable technology can pose a danger to those on a construction jobsite, these badges are worn safely clipped to clothing or mounted to a hard hat to avoid disruption to daily operations and continue work safely.
Construction project managers approached the rollout in two phases, quickly implementing and educating site personnel or projects already under construction and then shifting focus to projects where construction would soon commence. Burns & McDonnell absorbed the cost of the wearable technology, knowing that while the solution would not prevent COVID-19 from occurring, the badges would greatly reduce the response time to a positive case to keep projects running and people working if it was safe to do so.
The reaction to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is often highly varied from individual to individual with some believing the virus should not affect their daily life and others forming a tight bubble and limiting contact with those outside of their contact circle. Reactions to the tracking solution were also varied from crew to crew. Therefore, construction project managers frequently went directly to the job site to communicate with crews and answer any questions or concerns they might have about the solution.
Safety sessions were conducted on-site to educate construction crew members on the exact purpose of the badges. The badges did not have the capability nor were they intended, to track location or determine how much time an employee had spent on-site. Instead, they rather worked to strictly collect proximity data for contact tracing to review and implement if needed. Project managers worked to address concerns and assure employees that the badges were an optional safety solution, and in the long run would help minimize the risk to employees and their families.
In addition to implementing the badges as a solution to help keep site personnel healthy and employed, the team worked to maintain safety as a priority by promoting guidelines suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading at the site. Basic cleanliness habits were encouraged such as hand washing, mask wearing and limiting group gatherings when possible to provide an extra layer of safety and keep projects in motion.
Ultimately affecting hundreds of jobsites ranging from Honolulu, Hawaii, to San Francisco, California, to St. Louis, Missouri, and Boston, Massachusetts, the badges helped teams respond efficiently in the event of a positive case on a construction site. With the help of the tracking technology, the project management team worked to effectively trace any overlap between a positive case and someone on their crew. The construction site coordinators implemented a solution that worked to keep critical construction jobs running smoothly and efficiently even during a time of great uncertainty.
Written by Allegra Klossen and Maria Tice
Allegra is a project coordinator at Burns & McDonnell and actively worked to implement solutions for critical infrastructure construction sites in reaction to challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In her role, she works to alleviate concerns and keep projects on schedule and on budget.
Maria is a construction project manager at Burns & McDonnell. With more than 15 years of experience, Maria works to address site personnel concerns and keep integrated teams coordinated on fast-track and complex projects. Her experience extended to responding to COVID-19 impacts and keeping critical projects moving.