A First-Person Account of How the Pandemic is Affecting Construction Workers

The rapid spread of COVID-19 forced the construction industry to adapt. One roofer describes how the lives of he and his fellow workers have changed.

The rapid spread of COVID-19 has transformed our world in ways no one could have anticipated. Workplaces around the globe are shut down or in holding patterns while essential businesses continue to push forward. Construction companies continue to develop new projects while doing everything they can to protect themselves, their employees and their clients.

Construction workers such as myself — I’m a roofer with RoofingMKE in Milwaukee, Wis. — who are considered essential employees are doing vital work. We’re fixing roof leaks, fixing pipes and wiring rooms; building the infrastructure for essential businesses like hospitals, clinics and grocery stores; and helping homeowners keep their homes safe for their families. We’re doing so with extra safety precautions, although some are feeling the change more than others.

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Here are some of the ways I’ve noticed my fellow construction workers and I have adapted due to the pandemic.

We’re Finding New Ways to Communicate with Clients

Face-to-face communication between most construction firms and customers has been suspended until further notice. They instead communicate via video conference, phone or email. Even renovation estimates have been taken online.

We’re Shifting Schedules to Reduce Risks

Schedules have been changed so only a limited number of workers are at the job site at once. Many companies have reduced job site workers by 20 percent to reduce the chances of spreading the virus. This can mean jobs take longer with fewer people working on site, and workers working different days than before.

We’re Changing How We Travel to Job Sites

Carpooling is discouraged because of social distancing requirements. Instead, workers often meet at the job site instead of the office and drive to the job site on their own.

Our Safety Gear Is More Valued, and Scarcer, Than Ever

Use of safety gear has always been important because construction workers often work within hazardous environments. Unfortunately, there’s a shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) such as gloves and masks.

Mike Ortiz from Madison Water Experts, a water damage restoration and mold removal company in Madison, Wis., says that his workers’ daily safety measures could be compromised as the supply of masks and gloves dwindles. “Our employees are used to being careful in their working environment,” he said. “This is quickly becoming a double-edged sword, unfortunately, since we have to throw it out after each job and we are slowly running out.” Construction companies across the country face this same issue.

We’re No Longer Sharing Tools

Many workers would typically share tools. Now, they can’t, they need their own specific set of tools on site. They also disinfect tools after each job.

We Sometimes Take Leave, for Safety

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explained, people with underlying medical conditions are at a higher risk of contracting the virus. Workers with such underlying conditions are taking more precautions, sometimes even choosing to be furloughed. It depends on the person and the job. Roofers and landscapers work outside, often at a safe distance from coworkers. Drywall installers and pipefitters, however, typically work close to one another.

As construction workers, our job duties are key to keeping essential businesses up and running. While fully aware of the risks, we head to job sites every day, taking the necessary safety precautions to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Mark Soto
Mark Soto works for a family-owned company, RoofingMKE, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has comprehensive knowledge of roof installation, repair and replacement and gutter installation. Mark comes from a family of DIYers and has worked with landscapers, plumbers, painters, and damage restoration specialists.