The New York construction industry is very much used to high risk. Now, it has another risk to add to its list of precautionary actions for creating a site safety plan: Coronavirus (COVID-19).

In Governor Cuomo's Executive Order 202.6 restricting certain services in New York State, he has listed construction among the categories of essential services exempt from the restrictions. The Order now limits the in-person number of nonessential business or entity workforce to 0%. This is causing nonessential services companies to scramble for ways to implement work-from-home technologies and capabilities for 100% of their workforce.

We believe that the Governor recognizes the critical importance of maintaining and continuing the existing construction boom. However, there is an even greater recognition – the recognition that members of the construction industry are extremely disciplined in exercising proper safety precautions. Now, construction companies are entrusted with an additional element of safety to discuss during daily "tool box" talks.

OSHA (U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration) already has issued guidance on preparing the workplace for COVID-19; and construction companies together with real estate developers routinely seek Wilson Elser's guidance on how to best comply with evolving new guidelines and recommendations by health and safety agencies.

While the construction industry's priority is to protect the safety and well-being of its workforce, it is now faced with the uncertainties related to combating the further spread of COVID 19.

Similar to protections from all risks faced on a construction site, companies must remain diligent in promoting workplace safety in the prevention of COVID-19 exposure. OSHA focuses on the need for employees to implement engineering, administrative and work protective controls and personal protective equipment (PPE) in developing enhanced protocols. The controls that companies set in place must be very fluid to adapt to the unique circumstances that may exist at a particular construction site, while also considering community practices such as "social distancing" and other Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.

Some approaches to enhancing site safety to accommodate the coronavirus outbreak are as follows:

  • Develop an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan that considers and addresses steps that will reduce the risk of worker exposure based on the specific construction site environment.
  • Explore policies and practices for flexible work schedules.
  • Develop methods of performing construction tasks in a manner that best promotes social distancing.
  • Develop job classifications based on workers' risk of exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID-19: High, Medium, Low.
  • Develop proper training programs that incorporate applicable sections of CDC, WHO and OSHA guidelines.
  • Develop and implement a thorough understanding of the proper types of personal protection equipment (PPE) to be used against exposure.
  • Develop an immediate response protocol and levels of notification should a worker test positive for COVID-19 or be exposed to someone with the disease. In this regard, notification requirements by the worker are crucial.
  • Sanitization has now become an enhanced requirement at every stage of a worksite.
  • Enhanced hazard assessment must be performed by qualified personnel. Assessment of exposures due to chemicals, harmful dust and biologic elements has been an existing requirement for worksite safety.

Until health and safety agencies institute specific guidelines and requirements for a pandemic scenario, the construction industry must adapt to new risks of exposure to its workers on a construction site.

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