Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, California put construction companies on the short list of “essential” businesses that could continue working. And many residents of Malibu and the surrounding areas are eternally grateful for that, since hundreds of houses are in various stages of being rebuilt after the Woolsey Fire in addition to other construction projects.
Government guidelines now encourage construction managers to develop job site plans spelling out six-foot social distancing and hygiene/ hand washing procedures, require the wearing of personal protective equipment including masks, and provide wash stations and hand sanitizer, among other rules.
The construction managers interviewed by The Malibu Times confirmed they were following the guidelines, and didn’t feel the new way of working had slowed things down. To date, four home rebuilds have been completed since the November 2018 fire, with two of those homes completed in the past couple weeks.
John Johannessen of Johannessen Construction in Malibu is currently building a new 16,000-square-foot home for a client located near Neptune’s Net restaurant, just over the Ventura County line. The massive project often has as many as 40 or 50 workers on site on any given day and by the time the job is completed, as many as 75 subcontracting companies will have been involved.
“Everyone wears a mask and I installed a hot water heater and an extra-large sink and faucet so the workers could have hot and cold running water at the hand-washing station,” Johannessen said. “And we don’t stand close together at meetings.”
“[The pandemic is] a real big concern of mine because I have all these guys,” he continued, “and they go home all over the valley and LA County and then come back to work. Luckily, the project is so large that the workers are very spread out and it’s never crowded.”
Johannessen said the workers and subcontractors have been extremely cooperative about following the COVID-19 guidelines.
“Everyone has been very proactive,” he said. “If someone comes to the job site without a mask, we make them go back and get one. Because of the scariness of the coronavirus situation, it’s been a no-brainer to comply. I feel blessed we’re able to keep the guys working.”
One of the workers on the site, finish carpenter and window installer Humberto Zavala, has been on this job for about two months.
“We do a lot of hand washing and we carry our own hand sanitizer, which we especially use before and after lunch,” he said. “Wearing the mask is a little bit hard for us because we have to move a lot, and we sweat, and have to carry heavy stuff on a hot day. But we understand it’s for our own safety and the safety of the community. It is tough, though, having to wear it all day.”
When it comes to social distancing, Zavala and his coworkers do the best they can, but some jobs require them to be closer. “Like if we’re installing a small window together, we can’t always stay six feet apart,” he noted.
Another worker, Charles Randle, is on site with his coworkers from Prime Air installing the HVAC system.
“I don’t mind wearing the mask,” he said, “but it’s less oxygen and the air isn’t as fresh. There are hand washing stations everywhere here, and you can wash up anytime you feel your hands are dirty. With a house this size, social distancing isn’t hard.”
Meanwhile, Saffron Case of Saffron Case Homes said coronavirus work guidelines are being followed at all of her Malibu worksites.
“We have stations set up for handwashing, hand sanitizer and everyone wears a mask,” she said. “It hasn’t slowed us down at all and we’re very grateful to be working.”
Peter Melcher of Peter Melcher Construction said the same thing: “We wash our hands as soon as we get to the job site and everyone wears masks.”
The same week the county announced sweeping closures due to the virus, the LA County Department of Public Works issued “minimum recommended procedures” for active construction sites to follow in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, emphasizing their work was essential.
In addition, LA County also “strongly recommended” workers and employees at construction sites follow additional guidelines published by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), better known as Cal/OSHA.