Fieldwork during COVID-19: How a Management Plan and Staff Commitment Deliver Results
August 28, 2020

Whether it’s deploying equipment into churning ocean waves, or collecting a sample while tied off from a riverbank, fieldwork has never been easy. Conducting fieldwork during the COVID-19 pandemic brings added safety risk. In late March 2020, Integral Consulting Inc. (Integral) developed a COVID-19 Field Program Management Plan to guide field activities in the safest manner possible.

According to field manager Sandy Browning, the plan places extra emphasis on pre-field planning to build adaptability into project-specific health and safety protocols. “Our plan includes details on how to order supplies and equipment during a time when supply chains are disrupted, and how to implement work safely, including travel logistics,” says Ms. Browning. Each project is carefully reviewed by Integral’s COVID-19 Response Team to be sure work proceeds safely and in line with Integral’s policies, critical and non-critical worker definitions, and federal, state, and local emergency orders and restrictions.

Employee wearing PPE while working in the field

Staff wear masks and other protective equipment while performing fieldwork.

Despite pandemic challenges, having a complete management plan in place has allowed a consistent flow of fieldwork. In March and April, Integral performed locally based work involving soil investigations, construction oversight, and collection of river flow data, primarily in the Northeast. By early May, Integral had performed a sediment-profile imaging survey off the coast of New England followed by four more surveys, including one in Alaska. In early June, activities associated with a sediment erosion study in Barataria, Louisiana, resumed—and across the company, fieldwork continues in July and August.

To maintain physical distancing while performing field tasks, Integral staff have adjusted the way they conduct fieldwork. “We are holding meetings outdoors, using larger vessels to perform on-water work, and setting up individual workstations,” says senior engineer Sara Barbuto, who has been working on Integral projects on the East Coast.

Other methods include processing samples in stepwise fashion, and assigning discrete tasks to individuals to avoid sharing equipment. In addition, field staff are sanitizing gear after each use and wearing masks and other appropriate personal protective equipment distributed by the company. In some cases, clients have required pre-field COVID-19 testing along with self-quarantine to ensure the safety of shipboard crews over an extended period of time.

Integral’s safety statistics bear the results: a 0.0 total recordable incident rating, even with hundreds of hours worked.

Individual work areas promote social distancing while conducting fieldwork

Conducting work outdoors and in separate work stations (back of truck far left, and inside shelter, right) help field staff maintain effective physical distancing.

Integral’s ability to overcome the challenges brought by the pandemic and continue to meet clients’ needs has largely ridden on our field staff’s commitment to protecting the health and safety of one another and the public.

“We are extremely proud of our field crew,” says Ms. Browning. “Their commitment to safety throughout the pandemic, and during all of our field efforts is truly commendable.”

To learn more about Integral’s field team support, contact Sandy Browning at sbrowning@integral-corp.com.