PESA Members discussed major workforce and worker health and safety issues OFS companies are dealing with in their response to the constantly evolving pandemic environment during a virtual townhall with the HSEQ/HR Taskforce.
Moderated by PESA Advisory Board Member and HR Committee Chair Bonnie Houston, NOV, and PESA Health and Safety Committee Chair Gary Childress, Oil States Energy Services, representatives from more than 50 companies shared their experiences and challenges around reopening, remote work, drug testing, preparing for flu season, effective protocols for COVID-19 screening, training that cannot be accomplished virtually, travel restrictions and more.
Although Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently announced the state would move into the next phase of reopening the economy, PESA mMembers are largely sticking with plans to continue remote working except for essential personnel.
Some companies are taking a more individualized approach where employees are able to work from home or in the office, so long as they follow CDC recommendations. Most are following the lead of local jurisdictions and will bring employees back on a limited basis when threat levels are lowered.
“The first tranche to return will not include employees at a higher risk, those working in cubicle-type shared environments or any employees with challenges associated with school closures,” said one participant.
Several companies are working on permanent work from home policies that would continue when pandemic concerns have eased.
Remote work has affected the drug testing policies of some companies. For several, testing is limited to safety sensitive positions and offshore or shop personnel while teleworkers are exempt. Others say policies are unchanged and all employees are eligible for random drug screens.
Epidemiologists are concerned about COVID-19 and the impending flu season, but OFS representatives on the call says it doesn’t change their companies’ screening protocols. One company said they’re discussing how to differentiate between symptoms of allergies and those of flu or COVID-19. Most companies agreed its best not to try to discriminate between flu and COVID-19. It’s a matter for medical personnel to handle.
“We assume COVID-19 in terms of the actions we require until a doctor tells us otherwise,” said one participant. “We are also actively messaging for employees to get the flu shot to remove some of the ambiguity.”
For training that cannot be accomplished in a virtual setting, representatives are following CDC guidelines for masks and social distancing to protect personnel and reduce chances of virus exposure. Some companies have apps to pre-screen participants. Companies are also doing more cleaning and sanitation.
Similarly, companies are following OSHA requirements for reporting work-related and occupational COVID-19 cases.
International travel restrictions are almost universally still in place. Some local and domestic travel is being permitted, but all travel must be business critical. One company developed COVID kits for employees who must travel, which include KN95 disposable respirators, alcohol wipes, brass door opener, a washable cloth mask and hand sanitizer.
Participants discussed client-imposed requirements for fire-retardant face covers for workers on rig sites. While obtaining the masks haven’t been a problem, participants had concerns about breathability for employees working in hot conditions, effectiveness in preventing spread of the coronavirus and whether there was any real need for the requirement. Several members thought it was worth further discussion with operators.
Following the accidental publication of CDC’s draft guidance (since redacted) on airborne spread of coronavirus, several companies said they were looking for clear recommendations on ways to improve the air quality in their facilities. One company said they looking to upgrade air filters, but the consensus was that they needed more information.
“We’ll likely take steps to improve air quality if and when they publish something that lets us know what we should do,” said on participant. “We already understand the importance of good ventilation and regular servicing of HVAC systems. If CDC says COVID-19 is effectively spread ‘airborne’ for prolonged periods in enclosed spaces, it’ll have implications for social distancing, the type of masks we wear — it’ll be a big deal.”
After the CDC’s leak, the World Health Organization reiterated its position that droplets emitted from coughing, sneezing and talking remain the primary transmission route.
For more information about the HSEQ/HR Task Force, contact PESA Senior Director Member Services Peggy Helfert.