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Column: Safety in construction industry goes beyond our job sites

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  • Ron Taketa

    Ron Taketa

  • Leslie Isemoto

    Leslie Isemoto

The importance of safety has new meaning and importance in our community, our nation and the world in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The safety of the men and women on our jobsites, as well as the safety of the public around us, has long been the single highest priority for our construction industry.

We recognize this week as American Construction Safety Week to highlight the importance of safety not just in construction and on our jobsites, but within our everyday lives.

Given the inherent physical nature of construction, there are many checks and balances in place for our industry. We follow city, state and federal guidelines for safety on construction sites, and all major projects and contractors have designated safety managers and detailed project specific safety plans. These regulations not only ensure that our workers return home to their families every day, but also serve to ensure that the homes, schools, medical facilities, businesses or other facilities are safe. On our projects, safety is everyone’s responsibility and we take this responsibility seriously.

That is why when construction was deemed an essential industry during the pandemic, we knew early on how important it would be to implement additional measures to help curb the spread of COVID-19 for our workers, their families, friends and neighbors.

Key stakeholders from Hawaii’s construction industry — including unions, associations and contractors — came together and developed a construction industry pledge to mitigate the spread of the virus on job sites, with guidelines such as social distancing, frequent hand washing and not sharing tools.

Many general contractors have also implemented additional safety measures, including daily COVID-19 screenings, temperature checks, staggered lunch hours, rearranging schedules to allow for social distancing and contact tracing.

With Oahu’s second Stay-at-Home, Work-from-Home order in place, we’ve been working with our members to ensure that we continue to follow safety protocols on our jobsites, at home and when we’re in our neighborhoods.

As an essential industry, it is our kuleana to take the necessary precautions with our family and friends and follow the rules and regulations that our state and county officials set forth. Safety goes beyond the job site and those who work in essential industries, like ours, must take every precaution to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

There are 38,000 residents across the state employed by the construction industry, many of whom earn middle-class, living wages and have been fortunate to continue working during the pandemic. Construction accounts for 75% of the production sector and represents 5.7% of the total GDP for the state.

Economic recovery cannot happen until we see a decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases. We have seen Hawaii’s unemployment rate go from being one of the lowest in the nation to one of the highest, and we expect it will be years until other parts of our economy, including tourism, fully recover.

Construction has been among the few, maybe the only, bright spot in our economy and it will be critical that we remain strong and vibrant going forward. Still, we recognize that construction is not, and will not, be the sole driver for our economic recovery. Moreover, we recognize that for our economy to get back on its feet, we need to first emerge from this pandemic safe, healthy and confident, together.

Leslie Isemoto is president of the General Contractors Association of Hawaii; Ron Taketa is executive secretary-treasurer of the Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters.

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