OSHA Issued COVID-19 Guidance for the Construction Industry
OSHA has published COVID-19 control and prevention guidelines for employers and employees who work in the carpentry, ironworking, plumbing, electrical, masonry and concrete work, heating/air conditioning/ventilation, utility work, and earthmoving industries. These guidelines provide information on best practices for employers and employees in the construction industry, such as engineering controls, administrative controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment. While these guidelines do not expressly create new legal obligations, they provide valuable guidance for maintaining a safe construction site while the world continues to adapt to the impacts of COVID-19. The following is a high level summary of important guidelines to keep in mind when managing a construction site during COVID-19 but the full guidelines from OSHA are hyperlinked above.
Construction Work Tasks Associated with Exposure Risk Levels
The guidelines suggest employers assess any hazards that workers could be exposed to that would lead to a greater risk of exposure (“hazard and risk assessment”). After identifying these hazards, employers should create a plan that can be implemented in order to prevent exposure to the virus. OSHA categorizes construction work tasks as low, medium, and high risk depending on the chance of an activity leading to exposure to COVID-19.
Low-risk tasks are those that allow employees to remain at least 6 feet apart and have little contact with the public, visitors, and customers. Medium risk tasks are those that require workers to be within 6 feet of one another and in close contact with customers, visitors, or members of the public. High-risk tasks are those that require employees to come into contact with workers, customers, or residents suspected of having COVID-19 while working at an indoor work site. Employers should consider whether employees need additional PPE based on the hazard and risk assessment. OSHA suggests that employers consider delaying high-risk tasks that are not essential until they can be safely performed with proper infection prevention measures in place.
When employees are performing essential or emergency work that requires them to work in close proximity to someone suspected of having COVID-19, employers should separate employees with physical barriers whenever practicable. For example, if employees have to be within 6 feet of someone suspected or known to have COVID-19, employers should consider erecting plastic sheeting barriers. It is important for employers to remember that employees should not be required to work in close proximity to someone suspected of having COVID-19 unless it is truly essential or emergency work and cannot be delayed. Employers are recommended to regularly review and reassess engineering controls.
It is important that employers continually update policies to make sure that they reflect any CDC, OSHA, state, and local guidelines regarding COVID-19 prevention. Training employees on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and providing employees information on social distancing and how the disease spreads is crucial to limiting the spread of the virus. Proper training topics for employees include information on appropriate social distancing and hygiene practices, the proper way to wear a mask to prevent spreading the virus, when PPE should be worn, types of cleaning products that should be used, and the proper method for reporting safety concerns.
Safe Work Practices
Employers should adopt safe work practices, such as screening all visitors on all construction sites before allowing entry; adopting staggering work schedules if possible; coordinating deliveries to avoid contact; instituting a rigorous cleaning program that uses Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleaning chemicals; cleaning shared tools and equipment before and after every use; continuously cleaning and disinfecting portable job site toilets; filling hand sanitizer dispensers; and minimizing in-person meetings.
There are some circumstances where respiratory protection may be needed and must be provided by the employer, such as when workers are in close contact with someone suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19. Employers must provide respiratory protection when respiratory hazards exist. When disposable respirators are provided, employers must train employees to put on respirators before entry and remove and properly dispose of respirators upon exit. If respirators, such as N95 masks, are necessary to protect employees or are otherwise required by the employer, employers must maintain a Respiratory Protection Program consistent with applicable OSHA standards.
If you have any questions regarding these new COVID-19 guidelines and their impact on the construction industry, please contact a member of Koley Jessen’s Construction Practice Group.