Many jurisdictions have allowed construction activities to continue through the COVID-19 pandemic. But the “stay at home” restrictions have varied from a state to state. Restrictions vary depending on whether the project is public infrastructure, to commercial, to health care, to multifamily and residential. (Make sure that you confirm your particular jurisdiction’s orders to see what restrictions are in place.)
When the Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) initially released its guidelines on social distancing in late March (for workplace, school and homes), it would be weeks before construction-specific guidelines were released. Even then, the CDC did not give a clear answer for how to conduct construction activities when the work required closer proximity of workers. On April 20, 2020, the CDC released new guidelines for “critical infrastructure workers,” and on April 21, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA released an alert that basically adopted the CDC guidelines.
Remember, words matter. In the following OSHA Alert, I have highlighted the terms that I believe continue to give contractors leeway in continuing to work during this pandemic as long as training and safety precautions are taken:
Measures that can help protect employees working in construction include:
- Encouraging workers to stay home if they are sick;
- Training workers how to properly put on, use/wear, and take off protective clothing and equipment;
- Allowing workers to wear masks over their nose and mouth to prevent them from spreading the virus;
- Continuing to use other normal control measures, including personal protective equipment, necessary to protect workers from other job hazards associated with construction activities;
- Advising workers to avoid physical contact with others and directing employees/contractors/visitors to increase personal space to at least six feet, where possible. Where work trailers are used, all workers should maintain social distancing while inside the trailers;
- Promoting personal hygiene. If workers do not have immediate access to soap and water for handwashing, provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol;
- Using Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleaning chemicals from List N or that have label claims against the coronavirus; and
- Encouraging workers to report any safety and health concerns.
The crux of any safety policy or training program involving construction workers is to “avoid physical contact” and implement physical distancing protocols. If the work requires multiple crew members in close proximity, then steps should still be taken to avoid physical contact, as well as making sure the other hygiene recommendations are followed to minimize risk.