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In Champaign, Keeping Construction Sites Safe From Coronavirus Requires A Plan

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An excavator moves dirt at a construction site next to Market Place Mall in Champaign.

Construction work is considered a critical trade under Governor Pritzker’s Stay-At-Home order, so it’s been continuing while other activities have been curtailed. But preventing the spread of the coronavirus remains important. So in Champaign, city officials are asking construction companies to have COVID-19 safety plans in place.

The COVID-19 jobsite safety plans are required for larger building and road construction projects in Champaign. City Building Safety Supervisor Randy Smith says plans have been submitted for dozens of building projects, such as the construction of a new Costco store at Market Place Mall, and the continuing work on Carle At The Fields at the I-57/Curtis Road interchange.

We’ve always seen those sanitation stations, the handwashing, but we’re seeing more of them,” said Smith. “We’re seeing masks, that’s new on a construction site. We’re just seeing some changes that are really great overall though.”

Smith says the plans cover such things as making sure workers coming on site don’t have obvious symptoms of COVID-19, and ensuring that workers practice social distancing on jobsites.

Similar plans are required for road construction projects, such as for the resumption of work on South Prospect Avenue that began Monday.

Smith says the city’s jobsite safety guidelines draw from recommendations from federal agencies, including OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He says the response from the construction sector has been positive.

“We had 100% compliance,” said Smith. “Everybody got these (safety plans) to us, right when we were asking for them. We actually got we’ve got some thank-yous.”

The city of Champaign is also making precautions against the coronavirus a priority in street construction and maintenance. Kris Koester with the Champaign Public Works Department says the safety plans for road construction include the same things as those for building construction, including the wearing of personal protective equipment and practicing social distancing.

“Other things like limiting the sharing of tools and equipment,” added Koester, “ having meetings or discussions either remotely or via electronic means; and also ensuring and sharing with (workers) plans for when they leave the jobsite and go home.”

Koester says the at-home safety measures can include leaving work boots in the garage, instead of taking them inside, to avoid the risk of bringing the coronavirus into the house.

Koester says the jobsite safety plans are also required for the West Washington Watershed and Boneyard Creek projects, and Champaign’s portion of the MCORE Project.

Meanwhile, the city’s Public Works staff also has also changed their work routine because of the coronavirus. Public Works employees typically perform smaller maintenance projects, such as filling potholes, trimming trees, fixing sidewalks and picking up yard waste (that last task was support to start last week). But Koester says that instead, employees are minimizing work that could put them at risk of spreading the virus, with many of them working from home, and a reduced crew performing maintenance work.

“So we basically are just responding to needs as they come up with a limited staff,” said Koester. “That’s very different than what we normally do.”

Champaign officials implemented their requirement for COVID-19 jobsite safety plans shortly after Gov. JB Pritzker issued his March 20 Stay-At-Home order. City officials say they’re not sure how long they’ll be needed.

“Right now, I don’t know when this might end,” said Smith, the building safety supervisor. “It kind of depends on what we see at the state and federal level.”

Jim Meadows is a senior reporter for Illinois Newsroom. Follow him at @WILLJimMeadows

COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving story, and we are working hard to bring you the most up-to-date information. We recommend checking the Coronavirus Information Center for the most recent numbers and guidance.

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Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows has been covering local news for WILL Radio since 2000, with occasional periods as local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered and a stint hosting WILL's old Focus talk show. He was previously a reporter at public radio station WCBU in Peoria.

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