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Notes from the Field: Three Glaziers Offer Insights on Working During a Pandemic

Most states in the U.S. are now in the process of reopening, after shutting down due to COVID-19. Reopening, or continuing to work, during this time poses unique challenges to installers and glaziers. We asked three leading glazing contractors about protecting employees, the role of technology and their advice for other glaziers going forward.

Workplace safety tips from glazing contractors 

Q. How did the company deal with employee safety at the beginning, and throughout, the pandemic? What were some of the major hurdles, and how were they overcome?

Once we saw that we could continue to operate [as we were deemed essential construction], we focused on adhering to strict protocol on all essential jobsites―keeping up-to-date with regulations in each state according to local and CDC regulations. For both office and field employees, we created and distributed a safety protocol handbook, detailing best practices to reduce the risk of transmission. We also distributed masks and industrial-sized hand sanitizer bottles to all work crews. 

Since the implementation of these protocols, we’ve kept very close tabs on any COVID cases emerging on jobsites where we’re working. We designated safety personnel for each state and at each jobsite to minimize the risk of spreading the virus and to be the point of communications re: safety. We’ve also identified an executive communications team to collect and quickly disseminate any new COVID information we receive regarding local regulations, jobsites and employees. – Stephanie Lamb, COO, Giroux Glass

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We had two major projects that were deemed “essential,” which required us to continue working even when the rest of our projects were put on hold. As more information about COVID was being disseminated, we were continually modifying our work protocols to establish best practices while working during the outbreak. This included providing additional PPE to all our field workers including masks, face shields for their hard hats, nitrile gloves underneath their work gloves and, at one project (a hospital project), building a portable de-con trailer whereby workers could remove their “contaminated” clothes and change into clean ones before heading home. 

In the office we went to 50 percent staffing having employees alternate days in the office and implementing social distancing protocols as best as practicable. We also have switched all our internal meetings to Microsoft Teams Video conferencing. – Demetrios (Jim) G. Stathopoulos, CEO, Ajay Glass

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Safety and health of our team is always top on our agenda and concern. As with everyone, the COVID experience was new and we started by following the advice of the specialists and adding our own common-sense measures. Distancing and virus protection by disinfecting was the backbone. Regular thermal scans of the employees, whether the office or jobsite was paramount. The majority of our office and sales team worked at home using the RDT access with the virtual networks we already had in place. Any possible incidences of exposure or suspect illness were, and continue to be, immediately quarantined and tested as applicable. – Ray Crawford, president, Crawford-Tracey Corp.

Q. What role did technology play during the pandemic, either in transitioning some of the workforce to working remotely, or in aiding work on the jobsite itself?

We have replaced large meetings, whether they take place inter-state or inter-office, with StarLeaf video conference calls. Employees have installed this software on their phones, tablets and/or computers. Workers join meetings from home, from their office desks, and in transit to jobsites or from jobsites.

We’ve also adopted a more informal communications collaboration software platform, Slack, to help replace the kind of conversations that used to take place routinely in hallways.  – Lamb

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We have been able to successfully integrate video conferencing/remote work in our project management. All of our field superintendents utilize tablets for access to information (that was pre-COVID) but it has also allowed us to continue communication with them in a safe manner. – Stathopoulos

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In the office and managerial sectors, the technology significantly eased the majority of the challenges. The GoTo/Zoom meetings, and visual abilities of the screen sharing helped immensely in the continued stream of networking and communication. The remote computer and internet access helped, but the volume of use from everyone data streaming, including the online classes for school students, reduced speed and performance. – Crawford


Q. What insights can you share for companies that may be partially reopening, or returning to full operations? What do you feel is top of mind to consider for safety and operations going forward?

The safety of our employees will always be our first priority. While we are eager to complete all projects and meet our deadlines, we also have a responsibility to follow closely the protocol set by health departments, and to adapt when circumstances change. It may be tempting to loosen restrictions as we adapt to our ‘new normal,’ but in order to maintain our work at the rate we’ve been so fortunate to execute, we must remain vigilant in monitoring the spread of the virus. 

On jobsites, this means continued vigilance: maintaining the use of masks, gloves, proper handwashing and sanitation, and continuing to social distance as much as possible. 

Another word of advice would be to remain open and flexible. The way we work has shifted dramatically and holding onto older ideas about how work “should” be conducted could hurt your business and your employees. For us, this meant reevaluating earlier-held notions about working remotely. Because every employee was required to install our virtual meeting software, it has been much easier for our business to maintain communication between remote and in-office teams.

Like many businesses that have been around for a long time, there was some initial hesitancy to embrace the concept of remote work. The COVID crisis required us to reevaluate, and many teams have actually experienced an increase in productivity as they embrace working from home. We have become more flexible in our remote work policies, and imagine this will continue in order to maintain appropriate social distancing in our office spaces. – Lamb

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I would say review your work plans/protocols as you start to return to full operations. Several projects we have recently restarted have daily questionnaires that are required to be completed by workers. They also require daily temperature checks before entering the site. Proper PPE is essential along with social distancing protocols, as best as possible, when working.Thankfully, we have not had any COVID exposure for any of our workers. 

Most importantly, communication is essential. It is imperative that you have open dialogue and communication with all parties so that all are aware of the risks. – Stathopoulos

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As being designated as an essential business, we never shut down. I can’t say that it was business as usual, but it was continued business. It was a major learning experience for all of us. It reminds you of the intimate value of human interaction and the effectiveness of “office partnering and camaraderie.” Re-opening needs to be tempered with the caution that the threat is far from gone and the potential to contract and spread is still there and will need to be consciously monitored.  – Crawford

Author

Norah Dick

Norah Dick

Norah Dick is the assistant editor for Glass Magazine. She can be reached at ndick@glass.org