Authored by: Carol A. Sigmond
On May 13, 2020, the New York State Department of Health issued a model plan and guidance for reopening and operating construction sites in New York State during the COVID-19 Emergency. There is also an overall guide from the State entitled: NY Forward Reopening Guide that contains more general information. The following are links to the Master Guide, the Short Guide, Model Plan and Reopening Guide all prepared by the State of New York.
The Master and Short Guidelines are intended to inform workers about how to keep themselves safe on construction sites. These are intended as handouts to be distributed by employers to employees . Careful employers will ask employees to sign to acknowledge receipt of both documents. The guidelines are available in multiple languages.
The Guidelines consider 3 aspects of safety for workers in the COVID-19 Emergency: People, Places and Processes. Safety for people focuses on social distancing and training. The social distancing guidance addresses staggering starting work hours, lunch and breaks; limiting gatherings such as meetings; managing access to hoists and other enclosed spaces; limiting crew sizes; limiting activities by multiple trades in the same area to the maximum extent possible; scheduling tasks in enclosed areas sequentially instead of concurrently; limiting visitors on the site; managing deliveries to maintain social distancing; and limiting on-site worker interaction, as workers enter and leave the job site. The training aspect of the guidelines is intended to be met by use of the master and short guidelines as well as the overall plan.
Safety for places focuses on personal protective equipment (“PPE”) for everyone on the site and hygiene and cleaning. New York has mandated that employers must provide certain PPE including masks, face shields, goggles, or gloves, as appropriate for workers during the COVID-19 Emergency. Under the Guidelines linked above, the standards on construction sites are higher:, all people on all construction sites in New York State must wear respirators, surgical masks or M 95 type masks and gloves and such other equipment as may be required to maintain worker safety, and comply with OSHA guidelines. Additionally, workers need to be instructed on how to put on and remove PPE while maintaining personal safety as well as the safety of others. New York also recommends that sharing of tools, job boxes and other equipment on the site be limited to maximum extent possible.
Another aspect of safety for places relates to cleaning sites and maintaining site hygiene. The following links provide detailed information on cleaning materials and techniques from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”)and the New York State Department of Health.
Surfaces touched frequently, such as tools, equipment and materials must be disinfected regularly. Among the areas that must be cleaned with disinfectant are rest rooms and portable toilets, as well as trailers or field offices. Handwashing stations or hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol) must be available. Also, alcohol or bleach wipes need to be available for spot disinfecting. If someone tests positive for coronavirus, they must self-quarantine and the site must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
Safety for processes includes screening all persons seeking to access the site, including field office or trailer. Screening must include delivery personnel. Screeners need to be familiar with the common symptoms of coronavirus, including, without limitation: fever, chills, cough, fatigue, muscle aches, headache, recent loss of taste or smell and sore throat.
Processes also includes sending workers home who develop symptoms during the work day. Likewise, employers must insist that those who have been exposed to the virus away from the work place self-quarantine for a suitable time. Moreover, site managers and employers must notify the authorities of any positive cases on the work site and be able to provide contact tracers with information as to the workers with whom an infected person interacted. Workers should be advised that management plans to cooperate with contact tracing.
Key to the success of any strategic reopening plan is communication and education. Employers need to keep employees informed on how to stay safe from the virus. Likewise, suitable signage and handouts need to be available to workers to help them be part of the solution. Finally, every construction site needs a plan to accomplish safety for people, places and processes. New York State has provided a starting point for an effective plan.
With care and caution, we can reopen safely. Using the information and guidance from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York State Department of Health, we can have both a vibrant economy and healthy workers and families.