COVID-19 in Construction: Best Practices for Tool Management During the Pandemic

COVID-19 in Construction: Best Practices for Tool Management During the Pandemic

Unprecedented and rapidly evolving, COVID-19 has changed the way we exist, interact with each other, and even think about working in times of global crisis.

For most of America, this has entailed following guidelines for working from home, shuttering stores and factories, and practicing physical distancing and quarantine advice as we aim to flatten the curve and inhibit the further spread of the virus.

But for those essential workers on the front lines—healthcare workers, law enforcement, grocery store workers, pharmacy workers, gas station attendants, and of course, those in service and construction —such quarantined precautions are not as easily accessible.

For taking these daily risks, we thank you and your team.

To help keep you and your team stay safe as you’re on the frontlines, we’ve assembled some best practices for tool management to follow during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • How to properly clean tools before using them
  • How to sanitize tools before transferring them across job sites, as they’re received, and how to set up a safe pick-up environment

We’ve also outlined some considerations for when operations cease.

General Guidelines

Below is a list of tool sanitation practices recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), OSHA, and state and local health departments. Following these guidelines can help you contribute to curbing the spread of coronavirus.

  • When handling tools, you should wash your hands or use proper hand sanitizer before and after to prevent contamination.
  • Anyone handling tools should be properly trained and protected using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  • Tools should be cleaned with mild soap, a clean damp cloth, and, as needed, an approved diluted bleach solution only.
  • Cleaners that have conductive or corrosive materials, especially those with ammonia, should not be used. Some household detergents contain ammonia, for example, so you should read the ingredients carefully. Other examples of conductive or corrosive materials to avoid include gasoline, turpentine, lacquer thinner, paint thinner, and chlorinated cleaning solutions.

Considerations for Cleaning Tools

While there should never be any, confirm that there’s no blood on the product. Once you’re sure, it can be cleaned with mild soap and a damp cloth to remove fluids and then left to rest for 3 days. This is based on CDC advice that the virus may live on plastic surfaces for up to 72 hours, which also suggests that the virus would no longer be harmful after the resting period.

After this, the tool can be used again. Do not allow fluid to flow into the batteries.

If there’s no blood on the product, it can be cleaned with a mild soap and damp cloth to remove dirt and grease and then decontaminated with a diluted bleach solution, which is consistent with CDC advice. The full diluted procedure can be found below.

Note: Not for batteries, bleach and batteries don’t mix.

Cleaning Procedure

1. Clean the product surface with mild soap and water to remove dirt and grease.
2. Dip a clean cloth into the diluted bleach solution.
3. Wring out the cloth so it is not dripping wet.
4. Gently wipe each handle, grasping surfaces, or outer surfaces, with the cloth. Use care to ensure liquids do not flow into the tool.
5. No other cleaning material should be used as the diluted bleach solution should never be mixed with ammonia or any other cleanser.
6. Allow the surface to dry naturally.
7. You should avoid touching your face with unwashed hands and immediately wash your hands after this process.

A properly diluted bleach solution can be made by mixing:

  • 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water
  • 4 tablespoons bleach per quart of water

NOTE: If blood was on the product, advance cleaning is needed. Follow established Bloodborne Pathogen protocols for your business. Under OSHA requirements, anyone required to perform this type of cleaning should be trained in Bloodborne Pathogens and use the necessary PPE for this work.

Considerations for Transferring Tools Safely Between Job Sites

In addition to sanitizing tools and equipment before they are used on the job site, it’s important to take additional precautions and sanitize them before they are transferred and received on different job sites.

If you’re transferring power tools from one person to another, the following protocol is an example of possible measures to safely transfer your tools, which includes a transfer and a cleaning process. It’s important that you always practice proper hygiene during and after handling of tools. If you’re transferring a battery pack and battery cells that will be used by a team member, they should sit for 72 hours before being handled.

1. Create a neutral pickup and drop-off area designated for tool transfers. This designated space should be a low-traffic and secure area that won’t be susceptible to theft. Make sure to sign the tool in or out with the time and date it arrived or was transferred. You can use the One-Key app to keep track of your tool transfers.

2. As should be common practice by now, make sure to avoid touching your face and immediately wash your hands before doing anything else.

3. Once the tool has been successfully transferred from the crib or job site to its new destination, make sure to notify the site manager.

4. Based on how the tool was stored, you should let the equipment sit for a set period, as indicated below:

  • If the tool was stored in a carboard box that had not been open, 24 hours; or
  • If the tool was not stored in sealed a container and the tool is made of metal or plastic, or a combination of the two, 72 hours.

This can be a big departure from the common “just in time” inventory practice that logistics teams are used to. Be sure to be working ahead with project managers and foremen to leave adequate time for drop-offs and pickups.

5. If the tool is needed prior to the rest times referenced above, retrieve it and clean it before use, following the process set out in our cleaning procedures guide.

6. Avoid touching your face and immediately wash your hands before doing anything else. Wash your hands often, but especially after handling tools or equipment that someone else may have handled.

7. Once the tool is retrieved, follow the same cleaning and hygiene procedures mentioned above before again working with the tool.

What to Do When Ceasing Operations May Be Necessary

Nobody likes having to close shop. But in the face of coronavirus, it’s a necessary step in helping to keep ourselves healthy and safe. Here are what you can do for your tools while sheltering-in-place may be necessary.

Take Care of Tool and Equipment Maintenance

If you’re quarantined at home and are fortunate enough to have tools with you, this is a great time to take care of some of your tool maintenance needs. Doing this is a necessary part of ensuring the health and longevity of your tools and equipment.

Here are some ideas:

  • Clean and lubricate internal and external components in accordance with their owner’s manuals and recommended care instructions
  • Send equipment out for calibration or scheduled maintenance
  • Replace worn-out parts in accordance with their owner’s manual and care instructions
  • Inspect for water damage

Additionally, you can find manufacturer-specific recommendations for tool maintenance and equipment management in your owner’s manual. You’ll also find the manufacturer-recommended service schedule here.

If you’re due for service, what better time than now to get this work done? This will make sure that your tools and equipment are in tip-top shape and performing to specification when sent to jobs once you’re back up and running.

Make sure you uphold your warranty by sending them your tools and equipment to an approved manufacturer service center.

Secure Tools and Equipment Remotely

If you are an equipment manager and find you’ve had to shut down operations, it’s important to secure your site. Here are some actions you might consider:

  • Secure your job site through geofencing, a virtual perimeter you can draw around it. That way, if tools that have been assigned here do start to wander, you’ll be notified.
  • Lock out tools that have built-in security features. If tools wander and you suspect bad actors are the cause, smart tools that have these features can be locked out and rendered useless to thieves. On the other hand, if one of your active job sites has been shut down, where potentially dangerous equipment like table saws remains, you can disable these items as a safety measure.

As COVID-19 continues to rapidly evolve, it’s important to stress that we’re all united in this uncertain time. If we, together, follow the recommended safety protocols, we can help flatten the curve!

This is a guest post written by Steve Matson, program director for Milwaukee Tool. Currently overseeing the development of ONE-KEY™, Matson works with engineers, software developers, and marketing leaders in the industry to provide a new level of control and access to information that will fundamentally change the way users improve their workflows across their operations.

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