The coronavirus, also referred to as COVID-19, is a threat to safety, health, and businesses. The U.S. construction industry is not immune to the effects and challenges that coronavirus presents. OSHA issued guidance for construction employees and employers (source: OSHA’s COVID-19 Control and Prevention/Construction Work). This guidance does not take the form of a standard or regulation. As a result, it is not legally binding. Although this guidance is not legally binding, it is important to consider these OSHA guidelines for workplace safety, health, and to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It is possible to use this guidance document to establish knowledge for an alleged violation. It is also possible to use this document as a foundation of a General Duty Clause violation for failing to maintain a safe and healthy workplace. Further, the guidelines can help employees understand what to expect in response to potential exposures to COVID-19.
OSHA Guidelines for Exposure Risk Levels
According to OSHA, it is the responsibility of all employers to assess hazards, evaluate the risk of COVID-19 exposure, and implement safe workplace practices. This OSHA guidance for construction work assigns four different exposure risk levels for conducting hazard assessments:
- The “Lower (caution)” risk level covers tasks which “allow employees to remain at least 6 feet apart and involve little contact with the public, visitors, or customers.”
- The “Medium” risk level is for tasks that “require workers to be within six feet of one another” or “customers, visitors, or members of the public.”
- The “High” risk level is for tasks which requires workers to enter “an indoor site occupied by people such as other workers, customers, or residents suspected of having or known to have COVID-19.”
- The “Very High” level, according to OSHA, is “not applicable for most anticipated work tasks” in the construction industry.
Generally, these risk levels share one common theme: OSHA recommends reduced proximity to others.
Construction Worker Training
OSHA guidelines also include recommendations for training construction workers about COVID-19, including:
- The signs and symptoms of COVID-19,
- Explanation of how the virus is potentially spread, and how infected people may be without symptoms yet still spread the disease,
- Information about appropriate physical distancing and hygiene practices,
- The importance of staying home if sick,
- The need to use normal control measures, including PPE, to protect workers from other hazards associated with construction,
- Use of Environmental Protection Agency approved cleaning chemicals for cleaning frequently touched surfaces like tools, handles, and machines.
In addition to the recommendations for training, the amount of training about COVID-19 depends on the risk level. OSHA guidelines include that construction workers in occupied indoor worksites need broader training.
Cloth Face Coverings
OSHA states in bold print that “Cloth face masks are not PPE” and “are not appropriate substitutes for PPE”. Wearing cloth face coverings is a protective measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19. OSHA has not mandated cloth face covering use on a construction site. Cloth face coverings may be needed because physical distancing is not possible. Also, cloth face coverings may be needed to comply with state or local requirements. If cloth face coverings are needed, then employers should make sure that cloth face coverings fit snugly and securely, include multiple fabric layers, allow for breathing without restriction, remain clean, and replacement face coverings are readily available.
Additional Safe Work Practices
Along with reduced proximity, physical distancing, measures, OSHA guidelines includes engineering and administrative controls to prevent the spread of the virus. While mainly applicable to indoor construction areas, there are recommendations that contractors should consider. Other safe work practices include: screening work site visitors, staggering or alternating work schedules, implementing policies to maintain physical distancing, and coordinate site deliveries to minimize contact.
OSHA Guidelines and Preventing Falls in Construction
Much of the construction industry continues through the pandemic. One of the most cited OSHA standards is fall protection in construction. Fall protection training in construction is the eighth most cited OSHA standard. Falls are a dangerous hazard for U.S. workers, and consequently fall protection is an important safety concern for employers. Originally slated for May 2020 but postponed due to COVID-19 to the week of September 14 – 18, OSHA postponed its 7th Annual National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction. While the national safety stand-down to prevent falls is postponed, employers can hold in-person meetings for safety stand-downs at any time, using a toolbox talk or other OSHA resources. Consider holding in-person meetings outside where distancing may be easier. Keep the meetings as short as possible and limit the number of workers in attendance.
In conclusion, OSHA provides much information and guidance about COVID-19 control and prevention in construction, national safety stand-down to prevent falls, and fall protection. The recommendations are useful to keep workers and job sites safe. Safety, whether associated with the coronavirus or with fall prevention and protection, is an important part of the work place. For information about our fall protection products, reach out to our helpful team.