OSHA Introduces New Guidelines to Protect Construction Workers from COVID-19

Since the onset of the pandemic, construction workers have had to face even more dangerous workplaces than usual. The standard problems of falls and equipment accidents haven’t gone away, only been compounded by the contagion risk that now permeates all non-remote forms of work.

As usual, however, employers have a moral obligation to make workplaces as safe as they can reasonably be, no matter what the potential hazards are. In a gentle reminder of this principle, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a set of COVID-specific safety guidelines for employers in the construction industry, which do not include giving up and claiming abject helplessness.

Construction Workplaces Must Be Made Safe from the Top Down

Although OSHA’s stated COVID guidelines for construction work don’t create any new legal requirements, they’re a solid set of common-sense recommendations and a good barometer for an employer’s level of safety commitment. Like any effective set of safety standards, the guidelines follow the hierarchy of controls model. This means they prioritize fundamental changes to the workplace on the engineering and administrative level over “quick fixes” at the employee level.

Accordingly, some of the most effective steps construction companies can take are:

  • Delaying non-emergency projects that require workers to stand within six feet of each other or members of the public
  • Arranging worksites to place physical barriers between workers whenever possible, particularly those known or suspected to have been exposed to the virus
  • Establishing policies and procedures that comply with all recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control
  • Vetting proposed indoor projects to determine the likelihood that someone present at the site could be infected

Precautions that fall lower on the hierarchy, but are still important, would be:

  • Training workers on hygiene and transmission-prevention behaviors
  • Providing plenty of masks that can be changed and cleaned as often as necessary, and enforcing correct, consistent usage
  • Ensuring that non-medical everyday masks are not substituted for respirators and other more advanced PPE during tasks that require these

These steps are not a lot to ask, and they have the potential to save countless lives.

Existing Workplace Health Standards Also Apply to COVID

OSHA has also published a handy index of timeless standards that are particularly relevant right now. The highlighted sections of the safety code include respiratory protection, eye and face protection, sanitation, and the general duty to provide a safe workplace.

Vague as it sounds, that general duty might be the most important of all in this context. By including it, OSHA is indicating that it does not consider COVID to be an exception to the general duty, in spite of some legislative efforts to classify it as such.

Employer liability for COVID exposure is still a legally complex topic, and the precedents are still being determined, but The Stoddard Firm believes employee safety standards are worth fighting for. If you believe you’ve contracted COVID-19 on an irresponsibly managed construction site, we’re standing by to discuss your case.

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