Federal OSHA just issued new COVID-19 guidance focused on the construction industry. It does not tread a lot of new ground, but here is a summary of it.
Most construction projects and tasks will be in the Lower or Medium risk exposure category in OSHA’s COVID-19 risk matrix (those categories require much less in the way of engineering and administrative controls than healthcare and manufacturing facilities. Social distancing and physical barriers continue to be the principal method to control infection recommended by OSHA. With respect to separating employees at construction sites, OSHA recommends:
- Using closed doors and walls, whenever feasible, as physical barriers to separate workers from any individuals experiencing signs and/or symptoms consistent with COVID-19; and/or
- Erecting plastic sheeting barriers when workers need to occupy specific areas of an indoor work site where they are in close contact (less than 6 feet) with someone suspected of having or known to have COVID-19.
OSHA also recommends gathering certain information (and provides sample questions) about projects before sending workers to perform construction activities in an indoor environment that may be occupied by a homeowner, customer, worker, or another occupant.
The new guidance includes a large section on “Face Coverings in Construction,” consistent with OSHA’s general movement towards a consistent expectation that employers will provide and require face coverings in workplaces whenever and wherever social distancing cannot be assured. The Face Covering section in this construction guidance explains that:
- CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings as a protective measure in addition to social distancing (i.e., staying at least 6’ away from others).
- Cloth face coverings are especially important when social distancing is not feasible based on working conditions.
- A cloth face covering may reduce the amount of large respiratory droplets that a person spreads when talking, sneezing, or coughing. Cloth face coverings may prevent people who do not know they have the virus that causes COVID-19 from spreading it to others. Cloth face coverings are intended to protect other people—not the wearer.
- Cloth face coverings are not PPE. They are not appropriate substitutes for PPE such as respirators (like N95 respirators) or robust medical facemasks (like surgical masks) in workplaces where respirators are recommended or required to protect the wearer.
- While wearing cloth face coverings is a public health measure intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in communities, it may not be practical for workers to wear a single cloth face covering for the full duration of a work shift (e.g., eight or more hours) on a construction site if they become wet, soiled, or otherwise visibly contaminated during the work shift.
- Employers who determine that cloth face coverings should be worn at a construction site, including to comply with state or local requirements for their use, should ensure the cloth face coverings:
- Fit over the nose and mouth and fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face;
- Are secured with ties or ear loops;
- Include multiple layers of fabric;
- Allow for breathing without restriction;
- Can be laundered using the warmest appropriate water setting and machine dried daily after the shift, without damage or change to shape;
- Are not used if they become wet or contaminated;
- Are replaced with clean replacements, provided by employer, as needed; and
- Are handled as little as possible to prevent transferring infectious materials to the cloth.
OSHA’s guidance goes on to discuss a series of Safe Work Practices that construction employers should consider. The list is pretty typical for recommendations we have seen in other industry-specific guidance issued by OSHA, including, for example:
- Screening visitors to the site for signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
- Adopting staggered work schedules (e.g., provide alternating workdays or extra shifts), to reduce the total number of employees on a job site at any given time to facilitate physical distancing.
- Identifying bottlenecks and choke points where workers are forced to stand together, such as hallways, hoists and elevators, ingress and egress points, break areas, and buses, and implement policies to maintain social distancing.
- Coordinating site deliveries in line with the employer’s minimal contact and cleaning protocols (delivery personnel should remain in their vehicles if at all possible).
- Keeping in-person meetings (including toolbox talks and safety meetings) as short as possible, limiting the number of workers in attendance, and using social distancing practices.
- Ensuring clean toilet and handwashing facilities.
- Regularly filling hand sanitizer dispensers and disinfecting frequently touched items and surfaces
Finally, the guidance document includes a heavy dose of training, on such topics as:
- Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and how the virus is spread
- The company’s policies and procedures that are applicable to the employee’s duties as they relate to potential exposures
- Information about social distancing and hygiene practices
- Use, limitations, location, handling, decontamination, removal, and disposal of any required PPE
- The importance of wearing face coverings masks and staying home if sick
This fed OSHA guidance comes a couple of weeks after Cal/OSHA issued similar construction-specific COVID-19 guidance.
For additional resources on issues related to COVID-19, please visit Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 FAQ Page for an extensive index of frequently asked questions with our answers about HR, employment law, and OSHA regulatory related developments and guidance. Likewise, subscribe to our Employer Defense Report blog and OSHA Defense Report blog for regular updates about the Labor and Employment Law or OSHA implications of COVID-19 in the workplace. Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force is monitoring federal, state, and local developments closely and is continuously updating these blogs and the FAQ page with the latest news and resources for employers.