The Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) recently released guidance concerning construction jobsite safety requirements to mitigate risk arising from the coronavirus (COVID-19). These actions include certain guidance directed specifically at the construction industry, as well as internal memoranda, indicating an increase in enforcement activity and the willingness to use OSHA’s “General Duty Clause” as a basis for citing employers where insufficient measures are being taken to protect employees from the coronavirus.
Both OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have offered periodic guidance to employers on dealing with COVID-19 in the workplace. The CDC has also offered employers guidance on how best to prepare workplaces for reopening, including suggested methods for cleaning and disinfecting workplaces.
Up until this point, industry-specific guidance from OSHA has generally been limited to certain industries designated as “high risk.” Workplaces deemed by OSHA to be most at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic have included those involved with healthcare, airline travel, “death care,” and emergency responders. Throughout the pandemic, OSHA has deemed most construction activities to be “low risk,” with some indoor activities where appropriate distancing is difficult to achieve rising to “medium risk.” However, OSHA has recently begun issuing additional guidance applicable to low and medium risk industries, including the construction industry.
Specifically, OSHA recently issued an Alert entitled “COVID-19 Guidance for the Construction Workforce.” In the Alert, employers were provided with various tips to help reduce worker exposure to COVID-19, including the following:
- Encouraging workers to stay home if they are sick;
- Allowing workers to wear masks if they so choose;
- Training workers on how to properly put on, use/wear, and remove protective equipment and clothing;
- Instructing workers on proper ways to clean and disinfect tools and equipment;
- Advising workers on proper distancing, respiratory etiquette, and personal hygiene;
- Keeping in-person meetings such as toolbox talks and safety meetings as short as possible, while employing proper distancing practices and limiting the number of workers in attendance;
- Using EPA-approved cleaning and disinfecting chemicals, or those that have label claims against COVID-19; and
- Encouraging workers to report safety and health concerns.
OSHA’s guidance for the construction industry follows certain prior CDC guidance that was directed specifically at construction workers. This prior CDC guidance, entitled “What Construction Workers Need to Know about COVID-19,” provided some similar recommended safety practices, such as personal hygiene and social distancing. Many construction employers have voluntarily adopted CDC suggestions into…