OSHA Guidance to Protect Construction Workers Against COVID-19
OSHA Guidance Helps Protect Workers Against COVID-19
In late January 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued comprehensive worker safety guidance for COVID-19 prevention policies to help employers and workers identify COVID-19 risks in the workplace and to determine appropriate control measures to implement.
Since the pandemic began in the first quarter of 2020, there was a lack of uniform workplace safety protocols, reporting practices, and contract-tracing standards at the national level, which has restricted the ability to accurately capture data on the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. A recent study from the University of California, San Francisco, gave a better idea of how COVID-19 has affected working-age adults in the nation’s most populous state – and shined a light on where the construction industry has room to improve.
The study used records from the California Department of Public Health to estimate mortality among certain industries for members of the workforce between 18 and 65 years old, and found that from March through October 2020, compared to other periods, mortality was 22% higher among these workers. The study also found that construction laborers had the fifth highest mortality rate among the state’s essential workers.
This highlights the need for leaders in the construction industry to remain vigilant in their COVID-19 prevention measures to ensure the health and safety of workers on the job site. And OSHA’s updated guidance lays out recommendations to increase employee protections against COVID-19.
For starters, the advisory guidance reiterates previous recommendations employers received from the administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding symptom screening, enhanced sanitation, and physical distancing in the workplace, but also encourages stricter action in some areas such as management. The guidance also calls for greater employee input and improved mask protections.
Below, we explore OSHA’s guidance for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. While this federal guidance is advisory in nature, there may be regulations at the state and local level that employers must abide by to address similar prevention measures. And of course, this summary is only some of the guidance. Plan to review the OSHA guidance prior to implementing within your company or on the jobsite.
Implementing a Coronavirus Prevention Program
According to OSHA’s latest guidance, the implementation of a COVID-19 prevention program is the most effective way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The most effective programs, OSHA says, engage workers (and their representatives) in both their development and execution.
OSHA has laid out several essential functions of a workplace prevention program, including:
- Assigning a workplace coordinator who is responsible for an employer’s COVID-19 issues
- Conducting assessments to identify where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19
- Adopting policies and practices to protect workers at higher risk for severe illness
- Establishing a system for communicating with employees in a language they understand
- Educating and training workers on COVID-19 policies and procedures
- Instructing workers who are infected or exposed to stay home
- Adopting policies that minimize the impacts of quarantining and isolation on workers
- Performing enhanced cleaning/disinfection after a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case
- Providing employees with guidance on screening and testing
- Establishing a way of recording and reporting COVID-19 infections and deaths
- Implementing worker protections from retaliation for voicing coronavirus-related concerns
- Making a COVID-19 vaccination available to employees at no cost to them
Increased Mask and Face Covering Provisions
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, OSHA has issued guidance on face coverings.
OSHA recommends that employers provide all workers with face coverings (i.e., cloth, surgical masks or neck gaiters) at no cost to employees. Face coverings, the guidance states, should be made of at least two layers of a tightly woven breathable fabric, such as cotton, and should not have exhalation valves or vents. They should also fit snugly over the nose, mouth and chin with no large gaps on the outside of the face.
Employers are recommended to require all individuals in the workplace, visitors, customers and non-employees included, to wear a face covering on site unless actively consuming food or beverages.
Additionally, employers should discuss reasonable accommodation for workers who are unable to wear (or have difficulty wearing) certain face coverings due to a disability. In workplaces with employees who are hearing impaired, employers should consider providing clear facial coverings. For operations where a worker’s face covering can become wet and soiled, employers should provide replacements as needed.
COVID-19 Hazard Assessment, Training and Recording Cases
Of note, the new OSHA guidance lays out recommendations regarding hazard assessment, employee training and record keeping of COVID-19 cases in the workplace. As part of their formal protection program, construction employers should be identifying hazardous conditions that create exposure risks.
The guidance further suggests that employers should communicate any hazards, policies and measures being taken to mitigate potential hazards with employees as part of their COVID-19 training programs.
The guidance also encourages employers to obtain direct employee and employee representation feedback to mitigate and prevent potential workplace hazards. Furthermore, these guidelines state that employers cannot retaliate against employees who bring PPE and/or COVID-19 risk issues to their attention.
Finally, OSHA advises that work-related COVID-19 cases be recorded for reporting purposes and requires notification if an infection results in the hospitalization or fatality of a worker. It’s important to note that state and local health agencies may have additional reporting requirements.
As COVID-19 continues to pose a risk to construction workers, and with additional guidance and mandates on workplace safety measures from the federal government likely on the horizon, the time is now to take steps to improve job site safety.
About the Author
Mike Merrill, Co-founder of WorkMax by AboutTime Technologies
With 10 years as a construction and real estate entrepreneur and 18 years as a technology executive, Mike Merrill, Co-founder of WorkMax by AboutTime Technologies, brings strong leadership and expert knowledge. With Merrill’s depth of knowledge of the construction industry and mobile workforce technology, he’s a highly sought after author by leading industry trade publications and speaker at industry conferences.