Workplace Culture

Building a safety policy was vital to Shawmut Design and Construction’s health

By Rick Bell

Jul. 30, 2020

Like many companies Shawmut Design and Construction faced the dilemma of protecting the health and well-being of its employees as the COVID-19 pandemic tore through the U.S. workforce.

While the safety of its 900 employees was Shawmut’s top priority, no one-size-fits-all solution was evident. Shawmut’s staff includes in-office employees as well as workers in the field at sites across the country.

With a diverse portfolio of jobs including cultural and historic buildings, academic institutions, commercial properties, luxury homes and Major League Baseball stadiums, Shawmut’s executive team had to act quickly and decisively to assure that their workers could function safely while still productively maintaining their commitments to hundreds of clients.

Shawmut, COVID-19, pandemic
Les Hiscoe, CEO, Shawmut Design and Construction

“We experienced added complexities on many projects that continued to work right through and were not impacted by shutdowns,” said Les Hiscoe, Shawmut’s CEO since 2015. “We had to make real-time adjustments on the fly to keep our people safe first and foremost and to make sure we continued to deliver for our clients.”

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One of Shawmut’s core values even before the pandemic struck was “find a better way.” Company leaders realized early on during the pandemic that making decisions on the fly was not sustainable and determined the “better way” was developing solutions internally.

Initially partnering with trade unions, industry peer groups and other construction companies, Shawmut developed its COVID-19 safety plan to minimize coronavirus exposure and risk across all job sites. The company soon rolled out safety protocols as well as a COVID-19 risk assessment and response plan to project sites across the country, Hiscoe said.

Shawmut’s leadership looked inward to develop a technology-driven solution that addresses worker safety as well as on-site productivity. Built in-house, Shawmut’s IT, safety and marketing teams developed Shawmut Vitals, a custom technology platform designed to track COVID-19 symptoms and manage contact tracing to minimize and control infectious disease spread.

Implementing a vital technology solution

Shawmut staff quickly took the platform to market, transforming the idea from concept to rollout in under two weeks, Hiscoe said.

The platform allows employees and subcontractors to self-certify daily health screenings by scanning a job-specific QR code that pulls up a health survey to fill out,” Hiscoe said. “If an individual is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or has been exposed to someone who is either infected or at risk, the individual is flagged for further care and action.”

The platform reduces friction points as people enter a site. Shawmut Vitals also frees a site superintendent’s time since the data is integrated into Shawmut’s systems, resulting in thorough recordkeeping and generating reports that previously had been done by hand.

Virtual communication in the office and on site

Frequent communication played a huge role in Shawmut’s safety response and employee engagement when offices began reopening, Hiscoe said.

“We held daily executive team huddles that begin with conversations around the best ways to keep our people safe, sharing successes and lessons learned across our job sites and regions,” Hiscoe said. “This also includes connecting with our Virtual Crisis Command Center, a COVID-19 crisis team that is constantly monitoring developments and helping to guide actions. We can provide constant guidance to our on-site client and office teams and ensure we are following all federal, state and CDC recommendations.”

Shawmut’s Future of Work Task Force also evolved out of their meetings.

Created to implement the best processes, systems and technology as employees began returning to the organization’s 10 offices, the task force is made up of cross-region, cross-department staff members.

The team meets virtually every week to develop thorough office-specific plans that adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and local government guidelines to keep everyone as safe as possible. Each office has a core team that examines the specific needs of that space and workforce to ensure every detail is taken into consideration, enabling staff to work safely and efficiently.

Hiscoe added that before entering the office, employees complete a health screening using Shawmut Vitals. This not only prevents those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms or may have been exposed from coming into the office but also helps with contact tracing. Offices are also clearly marked with signs including traffic flow, conference room capacity limits and common-area closures.

Those who are not ready to come back to the office utilize Shawmut Flex, Hiscoe said, a flexible work program allowing teams to work remotely.

“Having flex options is rare in the construction industry so Shawmut was uniquely positioned to be able to transition to work from home arrangements,” he said.

Following the rules

The pandemic has had a significant effect on how Shawmut employees work together on their job sites, Hiscoe said. They identified several new requirements: 

  • Self-awareness

“We encourage any individual who is feeling sick or who is presenting any symptoms of a cold, flu, or COVID-19 to stay home and/or seek medical attention. We enforce a 100 percent zero-tolerance policy that does not allow for anyone showing symptoms to be on the job site.”

  • Hygiene

All projects provide access to hand washing stations, which are spread at least 6 feet apart to maintain social distancing. Hand washing stations have corresponding signs with proper hand washing and hygiene techniques.

  • Personal protective equipment

All standard requirements apply. When two workers are operating near each other, face shields, safety glasses, hard hats and face masks are mandatory. PPE is disinfected before brought in personal vehicles or to homes.

  • Site safety requirements

A COVID-19 officer is on site 100 percent of the time to enforce all site safety rules, including the twice-daily cleaning of high-contact and common areas, pre-task planning meeting, health screenings, limiting of only essential personnel on the site and frequently cleaning high-traffic areas, equipment, and tools and devices. 

  • Communication

The team hosts toolbox talks related to COVID-19, distributes regularly written communications on best practices to job-site teams and reinforces all messages with signs in English and Spanish.

  • Emergency procedures

In the event of possible COVID-19 exposure, Shawmut teams will strictly follow CDC regulations.

Hiscoe added there is no wiggle room with Shawmut’s procedures either in office or on a job site. “Alongside my executive leadership team and virtual crisis team, we’ve made our enhanced safety protocols mandatory for both our staff on site and in our offices,” he said. “We’ve shared our enhanced protocols virtually with our partners and any guests who may need to access our offices making them fully aware of our mandatory procedures.”

Keeping in contact with all employees

Hiscoe said the pandemic has severely disrupted his own schedule and halted all travel for him.

“As a quintessential extrovert, this has been a challenge in an age of social distancing, both professionally and personally. As a leader, I pride myself in making connections with our people, projects and partners.”

Hiscoe’s limited travel schedule established unforeseen ways to manage his stress.

“I made sure to regularly work out, which helped immensely. And during quarantine, I have really enjoyed being home with my family and having dinners together.”

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Rick Bell is Workforce’s editorial director.

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