For those in construction, 2020 has been an especially challenging year.
That’s due not only to major delays and disruptions that sent developers scouring their contracts for force majeure clauses, but also the difficulties of determining how to protect workers against COVID-19 while maintaining compliance with workplace standards.
Though OSHA has not created a COVID-19-specific standard, it has emphasized it will continue to conduct COVID-19 worksite inspections and enforce the General Duty Clause, which requires employers to provide worksites free from hazards likely to cause serious injury or death.
This suggests COVID-19-specific regulations may not be issued, especially as the nation watches and waits for FDA-approved vaccines to become widely available.
In the meantime, with months of pandemic conditions still ahead of us, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) shares its guidance to construction employers on best practices to contain COVID-19 on worksites.
AIHA: Focus on Construction & Health During COVID-19
The AIHA is a non-profit association comprised of scientists and professionals committed to ensuring occupational health and safety. The AIHA works closely with OSHA, collaborating on the rule-making process and outreach initiatives.
Recently, the AIHA released Focus on Construction Health: COVID-19, a document intended to give construction employers guidance on how to maintain OSHA compliance under COVID-19 conditions. The guide shares what the CDC and health scientists have learned about coronavirus and how it is spread and lays out a seven-step plan for protecting workers on construction sites. The plan also includes a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) employers can use to tailor controls as worksite-specific tasks or conditions change.
AIHA’s seven-step framework for controlling COVID-19 hazards in construction is as follows:
Step 1: Designate a COVID-19 Site Safety Officer
Designate an officer who focuses solely on compliance and site safety, and who has a comprehensive understanding of COVID-19 exposure potential. These Site Safety Officers should be qualified and competent persons for smaller projects, and safety or health professionals for larger worksites.
Not only will these individuals be tasked with leading COVID-19 control measures on a project, they will also have the authority and responsibility to coordinate compliance efforts and serve as a point of contact for all employees and sub-contractors on a site.
Step 2: Develop a COVID-19 Control Plan
COVID-19 control plans should be comprehensive, clear, and actionable. They should also be based on relevant and recent guidance, including OSHA’s Construction Workforce COVID-19 Guidance.
Though there are many specifics to every plan, all control programs should focus on spelling out roles and responsibilities. Per AIHA, some key elements to consider when developing your plan include:
- Key responsibilities for managers, COVID-19 Site Safety Officers, Human Resource (HR), and employees.
- Procedures for site orientation, pre-job planning, company policies, and training.
- Rules for communication, site visitors, equipment supply, and deliveries.
- Processes for site inspections, forms, and reporting.
- Signs, markings, and other worksite notices.
- HR policies, such as pre-work screening and response plans.
Step 3: Review Worksite Maps to Determine Location of Controls
Construction employers and their safety personnel should develop COVID-19 control measures based on their specific worksite. When developing procedures, site signage, and response plans, have a map of the worksite nearby and take a physical walk-through to visualize:
- Break areas / common areas
- Potential choke points (high employee traffic)
- Worksite entry points
- Movement of supplies, equipment, and employees
- High-touch surfaces that require further attention
- Sanitation stations
Step 4: Plan Site Control Program Elements
AIHA advises construction employers to plan program elements based on the “Hierarchy of Controls” developed by occupational health and safety practitioners. Generally, this consists of:
- Methods to control hazard at the source itself (i.e. through pre-shift screening, clear sick leave policies)
- Methods that control exposure pathway (i.e. ventilation, social distancing, staggered arrival and break times, sanitizing)
- Methods to control hazards at the worker (individual) level (i.e. proper PPE)
Step 5: Perform JSAs to Tailor Controls
COVID-19 Site Safety Plans should be tailored to specific issues for each job task. While some measures will apply generally across a worksite, others will require employers to perform Job Safety Analyses (JSAs) so controls and measures for specific tasks, including higher exposure tasks, are strengthened to better protect workers or, when applicable, loosened for workers in lower risk jobs.
Some exposure factors to consider when performing JSAs:
- Indoor or enclosed work without ventilation
- Close-quarter tasks requiring two or more workers
- Task noises that increase chances of shouting and dispersal of aerosols
- Heavy physical exertion that can increase respiration and potential intake of aerosols
- Tasks that are longer in duration or which involve two or more exposure factors
- Contact with public or other employees
- Work in locations where COVID-19 patients may have been present (such as health care facilities, prisons, or food processing plants)
Step 6: Develop a Response Plan
A large part of the elements listed above help construction employers control exposure factors and reduce risks of workers contracting COVID-19 on jobsites. Unfortunately, they cannot eliminate all risks of exposure, or risks that workers or others who contract the virus elsewhere will bring it on site.
As such, employers must also create response action plans before a case is ever reported on their worksite. These plans should include processes and procedures for:
- Workforce contact tracing
- Compiling information about employees’ locations on worksites prior to their testing positive
- Identifying and informing employees of possible exposure
- Compliance with local guidelines and health confidentiality requirements
- Post-case identification cleaning and sanitizing
Step 7: Implement and Monitor COVID-19 Plans in Real-Time
Sound implementation and active management of COVID-19 Site Safety Plans are as important as the plans themselves. Employers should take care to:
- Determine how plans will be communicated to employees, subcontractors, and others on worksites and what training will be necessary. Signs posted throughout a worksite can provide reminders of key processes and help reiterate the importance of control measures.
- Actively monitor plans once they are up and running by checking controls in real time, soliciting feedback from workers, evaluating workflow, and coordinating with other employers or subcontractors.
Comprehensive Counsel for the Construction Industry, Including OSHA Citation Defense
With no OSHA standards specific to COVID-19 and few state-implemented regulations, construction employers can benefit greatly from the AIHA guidance. Still, managing compliance under pandemic conditions while also preserving the solvency of a business can be more than many employers are able to handle – or risk.
At Hendershot Cowart, P.C., our award-winning legal team counsels developers, owners, contractors, and others in the construction industry on matters of compliance, OSHA citation defense, contracts, and more. Our firm has decades of experience representing construction clients in proactive compliance planning and high-stakes proceedings involving violations, liability, and litigation.
To speak with a lawyer, call or contact us online.