Recently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released additional information for employers in its “Guidance on Returning to Work” publication. Although it does not create new legal duties for employers, it does contain recommendations for employers, as well as some standards that should be mandatory in the workplace. OSHA noted that its guidance was being provided given the need of employers to provide programs that addressed things such as identification of potentially sick employees. OSHA noted that its guidance was intended to supplement prior guidelines issued by not only the White House, but the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It was also acknowledged that based on location, employers are re-opening workplaces via the guidelines within their own communities.
For the construction industry, OSHA indicates that assessing hazards to which construction workers may be exposed, evaluating the risk of that exposure and selecting, implementing and ensuring that workers use controls to prevent exposure are the goals. In terms of assessing hazards to which workers may be exposed, there is a range of exposure risk levels to be identified. An example of a high exposure risk level would be when workers need to enter an indoor worksite occupied by individuals that have or are known to have had Covid-19. An example of a lower exposure risk level would be construction tasks that would still allow employees to remain at least 6 feet apart and would involve little contact with the public, visitors or customers. OSHA also noted that conducting a job hazard analysis may be helpful to an employer in order to determine the exposure risk level associated with various tasks that workers would need to perform.
Next, OSHA discusses the need for the construction industry to engineer controls that should be in place when workers are indoors and a person (co-worker, subcontractor, resident) is suspected of having Covid-19, with that person being present in the worksite in close proximity to where workers would be located. Whenever feasible, it is recommended that closed doors and walls be used to act as physical barriers to separate workers from individuals experiencing signs and symptoms consistent with Covid-19. When that is not possible, employers should consider erecting plastic sheeting barriers to separate workers in specific areas. These would be necessary controls put in place in high risk environments including locations such as medical facilities or hospitals where Covid-19 positive individuals are present.
OSHA’s updated guidance for the construction industry also focuses on certain best practices that we all can implement. This includes having employers identify areas on the job where workers may tend to gather so as to address those areas and eliminate the high risk situation of employees coming together unnecessarily in one location. Additionally, addressing the need to ensure six (6) feet distance is maintained in spaces such as skip hoists and elevators on jobsites is critical. Further, coordinating site deliveries and visits by outside vendors must also be addressed, as these practices which were formerly quite routine on a jobsite must now be scrutinized.
For a full reporting of OSHA’s guidance, please see the attached link which will provide more information. For detailed inquiries about navigating Covid-19 in the construction industry, our Construction Practice Group at Johnson & Bell, Ltd. is always available.