15 April 2021
Press release of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Ministry of the Environment
The instructions provide guidelines that support risk assessment. They focus on the prevention of employees’ exposure and what to do in the event of a possible exposure or infection or when an occupational disease is suspected. The instructions are intended for all construction industry workplaces where employees may be exposed to COVID-19.
“It is important to keep the wheels of the construction industry turning also under exceptional circumstances. During the first months of this year, COVID-19 infections have occurred at construction sites. We must now work together to turn this trend and to make sure that the virus does not spread at construction sites. The instructions that are now published will help construction industry employers identify places where risks may occur and act in a responsible manner,” says Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Krista Mikkonen.
The instructions have been created by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health’s specialists together with the construction industry organizations and unions (the Confederation of Finnish Construction Industries RT, the Finnish Construction Trade Union, Trade Union Pro and RAKLI), the Regional State Administrative Agency and the Ministry of the Environment.
Risk assessment applies to all situations
Construction industry employers must assess the personnel’s risk of COVID-19 infection at work and in other workplace situations, such as during breaks.
When preparing instructions, everyone working in the area of the construction site as well as different work situations must be taken into account and, whenever necessary, the expertise of occupational health services must be used when it comes to risk groups.
“Occupational health service personnel are experts in work-related health and safety. This expertise must be put into good use, especially now during the COVID-19 epidemic. Occupational health services provide support and guidance for risk assessment and for arranging healthy working conditions,” notes Minister of Social Affairs and Health Aino-Kaisa Pekonen.
In the event of an infection, the risk assessment must be updated – infection clusters may also damage reputation
It is advisable to prepare instructions for initiating the tracking of those exposed to coronavirus at the workplace. If there are any suspicions of an exposure at a construction industry workplace, they should be addressed to local or regional infectious disease authorities.
“A potential cluster of infections damages the reputation of the construction site and the entire company. Closing a workplace becomes costly for all parties and causes long-term damage to reputation,” says the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health’s Director General Antti Koivula.
“The significance of the subcontracting chain for reputation should also be understood. The brand and responsibility are important elements in the management of subcontracting chains.”
In the event of a COVID-19 infection, the workplace’s risk assessment must be updated and the protective measures must be improved, if necessary. During an official quarantine, the employee must not go to work. An employee officially placed in quarantine is entitled to sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease.
Communications should also cover non-working time
The main contractor of the construction site is responsible for COVID-19 safety communications. Each employer is responsible for providing induction training for its personnel and ensuring the instructions are complied with.
The employer should encourage employees to manage COVID-19 risks also outside the workplace and the working time, in shared transport and shared accommodation, for instance. The key issues are keeping a safe distance, practising good hand hygiene and wearing surgical masks, just as at the workplace.
Pia Perttula, Senior Research Scientist, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, tel. +358 43 820 0499, pia.perttula[at]ttl.fi
Arto Teronen, Director Of Field Operations, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, tel. +358 29 516 3493, arto.teronen[at]stm.fi
Kirsi Martinkauppi, Senior Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of the Environment, tel. +358 295 250 177, kirsi.martinkauppi[at]ym.fi