The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a series of tips tailored to construction work to help reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
In addition to encouraging workers to stay home if they are sick and implementation of the usual measures regarding personal protective equipment, in “COVID-19 Guidance for the Construction Workforce,” OSHA recommends that construction employers take the following actions:
- “Allow workers to wear masks over their nose[s] and mouth[s] to prevent them from spreading the virus.”
- “Advise workers to avoid physical contact with others, and direct employees/contractors/visitors to increase personal space to at least six feet, where possible.” Even in work trailers, “workers should maintain social distancing.”
- “Keep in-person meetings (including toolbox talks and safety meetings) as short as possible, limit the number of workers in attendance, and use social distancing practices.”
- Encourage workers to cover their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing, and to follow other forms of what OSHA calls “respiratory etiquette.”
- “If workers do not have immediate access to soap and water for handwashing, provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol.”
- Use Environmental Protection Agency -approved cleaning chemicals from List N or that have label claims against the coronavirus.”
- “To the extent tools or equipment must be shared, provide and instruct workers to use alcohol-based wipes to clean tools before and after use.”
- “Clean and disinfect portable jobsite toilets regularly. Hand sanitizer dispensers should be filled regularly. Frequently-touched items (i.e., door pulls and toilet seats) should be disinfected.”
- “Encourage workers to report any safety and health concerns.”
OSHA’s Guidance Not as Detailed as Other Niche-Specific Industry Recommendations
The only OSHA recommendations that seem to be specific to the construction industry are those concerning work trailers, toolbox talks, and equipment and tools. Some industry associations, such as the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) and its state counter-part, the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association (FTBA), have developed much more detailed and helpful best practices and tips for employers, which transportation construction industry employers may find helpful. For example, ARTBA provides more specific practice tips on how to conduct toolbox talks and minimize the number of workers in a vehicle. FTBA’s best practices list suggests no ride sharing, no tool sharing, and conducting job interviews by electronic means.
Is This Guidance “The Law”?
As our colleagues have discussed in other articles, OSHA’s guidance documents are not legally binding, but they could be used to establish knowledge for an alleged violation or be the foundation of a General Duty Clause violation. Employers may find it helpful to consider guidance from OSHA, as well as other government health agencies, and specific recommendations from industry associations in determining how best to protect the safety and health of their workers.