How Vermonters returning to work are being kept safe on the job

Published: May. 5, 2020 at 5:29 PM EDT
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Thousands of Vermonters in construction, manufacturing and distribution are clocking back into work this week. And next week, thousands more will return under strict guidelines.

The state is rolling out new guidelines for companies coming back online so workers can stay safe on the job. It's all aimed at rebooting our economy in a safe way so we don't have another outbreak of COVID-19.

Vermont industries are booting up as the state makes progress in fighting the coronavirus.

Jeff Grunvald is the vice president and owner of Preci-Manufacturing in Winooski. His company makes spare parts for military airplanes, submarines and heavy machinery, so they were deemed essential and never had to shut down.

"We have a plant that's about 64,000 square feet with 65 employees, so we have that opportunity that most of the equipment is far enough apart," Grunvald said.

The entire construction and manufacturing sectors restart next week under new rules.

Before coronavirus, about 60,000 Vermonters worked in those fields but it's not clear how many employees there are now. Some of those workers don't have jobs to return to while others, like Grunvald, never stopped working.

"Anything that is being touched constantly is being sanitized and cleaned," he said.

At Preci, he says they are already taking steps to keep workers safe. Now, other employers will have to follow Preci's lead and come up with safety precautions such as temperature checks, regular cleaning and following social distancing guidelines.

The Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center in Randolph is giving guidance on how to stay safe on the job.

"All the way down to the faucet. Should you have a door on the restroom? They say not unless you have to," said Bob Zider, the director of the Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center. "It's thinking through those little things. If you touch the door, how often should you be cleaning? What about the breakroom? What about the restroom?"

The idea is bringing Vermont's interconnected economy online while building good health habits.

"When people are not working, that is really a tough shot to our economy, Zider said.

But as Vermont's entire construction and manufacturing workforce clocks back in next Monday, Grunvald says the ultimate goal is making his employees feel safe at work.

"If they do feel comfortable, they can come to work. If they don't feel comfortable, we don't make them come to work," he said.

All of these rules are up to the employer to enforce.

Though the state expects the vast majority to comply with the new rules, VOSHA and the Vt. Department of Health have the capability to fine employers who don't keep workers safe.

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