Firm News

OSHA Guidance for Construction Employers and Workers

By Christopher M. Anaya
Attorneys at McGuire, Craddock & Strother, P.C.
June 12, 2020

OSHA recently announced the launch of a webpage with coronavirus-related guidance for construction employers and workers, which can be found at the following link: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/construction.html. The webpage includes a disclaimer to make clear that the information provided is intended to assist employers in providing a safe workplace and does not create new legal obligations.[1] OSHA urges workers and employers to remain alert of changing outbreak conditions “including as they relate to community spread of the virus and testing availability and implement infection prevention measures accordingly.”

As a starting point, OSHA encourages employers to evaluate the hazards associated with certain constructions activities and provides the table below to illustrate the exposure risk levels of certain activities.

OSHA then provides guidance in the following categories to help assess the hazards associated with certain construction activities and to implement the proper preventative measures.

Engineering Controls

When a person suspected of having or known to have COVID-19 is present at the worksite, OSHA recommends the following engineering controls:

  • Use closed doors and walls, whenever feasible, as physical barriers to separate workers from any individuals experiencing signs and/or symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
  • Consider 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 periodically reassessing engineering controls to decrease the need for personal protective equipment (“PPE”), which will help conserve this equipment for activities associated with higher exposure risks.

Administrative Controls

OSHA also recommends instituting policies that reflect standard operating procedures that follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), OSHA, state/territorial, and local guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19 infection; training for employees on the spread of the disease in the geographic areas in which they work; and screening calls when scheduling indoor construction work to assess potential exposures and circumstances in the work environment, before worker entry.

Specifically, OSHA recommends that employers train construction workers on the following topics:

  • The signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and an explanation of how the disease is potentially spread, including the fact that infected people can spread the virus even if they do not have symptoms.
  • All policies and procedures that are applicable to the employee’s duties as they relate to potential exposures to SARS-CoV-2. It is helpful to provide employees with a written copy of those standard operating procedures.
  • Information on appropriate social distancing and hygiene practices, including:

    • Avoiding physical contact with others and maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from customers and other individuals, whenever possible, including inside work trailers.

    • Appropriate cleaning practices (i.e., washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or, if soap and water are not immediately available, using alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol and rubbing hands until they are dry; sanitizing all surfaces workers will touch).

    • The proper way to cover coughs and sneezes following CDC recommendations (i.e., sneezing or coughing into a tissue or into the upper sleeve).

    • Alternatives to shaking hands upon entry, and the importance of workers not touching their own faces (mouth, nose, eyes).

    • The benefits of driving to work sites or parking areas individually, when possible, without passengers or carpools.

    • The types, proper use, limitations, location, handling, decontamination, removal, and disposal of any PPE being used.
    • The importance of staying home if they are sick.
    • Wearing masks over their noses and mouths to prevent them from spreading the virus.
    • The need to continue using other normal control measures, including PPE, necessary to protect workers from other job hazards associated with construction activities.
    • Using Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleaning chemicals from List N or that have label claims against the coronavirus for cleaning frequently touched surfaces like tools, handles, and machines.
    • The need to report any safety and health concerns.

OSHA also recommends implementing standard operating procedures and employee training to ensure that, before entry into home environments or areas where construction is ongoing in occupied buildings, workers:

  • Request that any individuals under quarantine or isolation who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing signs and/or symptoms of COVID-19 remain physically separated from the worker (e.g., in a different room, on a different level of the home or building, or outside if weather and applicable emergency orders permit) and communicate remotely with the worker (e.g., by cell phone, using internet-based payment systems and electronic signatures to confirm that work was completed).
  • Ask individuals in the workplace to wear a cloth or other face covering, if available, and to cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Request that shared spaces in the construction area have good air flow, such as by turning on an air conditioner or opening windows, weather permitting, consistent with CDC recommended precautions for people in households.

Safe Work Practices

In addition to the other recommendations, OSHA recommends the following “Safe Work Practices”:

To the extent possible, screen all visitors on all construction sites in advance of their arrival on the job site for signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

  • Adopt 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 and to ensure physical distancing.
  • Identify 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.
  • In elevators and personnel hoists, ensure 6 feet distance between passengers in all directions and equip operators with appropriate respiratory protection and other necessary PPE.
  • Coordinate site deliveries in line with the employer’s minimal contact and cleaning protocols. Delivery personnel should remain in their vehicles if at all possible.
  • Institute a rigorous housekeeping program to reduce dust levels on the job site.
  • Keep in-person meetings (including toolbox talks and safety meetings) as short as possible, limit the number of workers in attendance, and use social distancing practices.
  • Ensure clean toilet and handwashing facilities. Clean and disinfect portable job site toilets regularly. Fill hand sanitizer dispensers regularly. Disinfect frequently touched items (i.e., door pulls and toilet seats) regularly.

 Cloth Face Coverings in Construction

OSHA notes the CDC recommendation of wearing cloth face coverings as a protective measure and notes that cloth face coverings may be especially important when social distancing is not possible or feasible based on working conditions (as is often the case on construction worksites). The webpage includes more detailed information related to how cloth face coverings should be worn.

Personal Protective Equipment

Lastly, on the topic of PPE, OSHA notes that “[m]ost construction workers are unlikely to need PPE beyond what they use to protect themselves during routine job tasks. Such PPE may include a hard hat, gloves, safety glasses, and a face mask.” OSHA then cautions employers to consider whether (based on the hazard assessment) there is a need for the use of more protective PPE. On this topic, it is important to note that, when workers need PPE, employers must comply with OSHA’s standards for PPE in construction (29 CFR 1926 Subpart E). The webpage also provides information related to when and how to provide respiratory protection.

For more information or for advice on how to keep your workplace safe, please contact Christopher M. Anaya at [email protected].

This correspondence should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances.  The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult a lawyer concerning your own situation and legal questions.  The information contained herein is current as of the date of this article.

[1] The full disclaimer reads as follows: “This guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations. It contains recommendations as well as descriptions of mandatory safety and health standards. The recommendations are advisory in nature, informational in content, and are intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to comply with safety and health standards and regulations promulgated by OSHA or by a state with an OSHA-approved state plan. In addition, the Act’s General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1), requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”