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Factory workers with face mask protect from outbreak of Corona Virus Disease 2019 or COVID-19.

How To Stay Safe Back at Work

The caution tape is coming off of thousands of job sites across New York City as construction workers and tradesmen prepare to get back to work. According to Archinect News, more than 5,200 worksites in the five boroughs have reopened as of April 30. Now that Governor Cuomo’s New York State on PAUSE executive order has expired as of May 15, thousands of workplaces in NYC will be granted the green light to reopen in phases, providing COVID-19 activity continues to decline.

With project deadlines long past due, it’s expected that worksites will be busier than ever. But state officials and national safety organizations, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (O.H.S.A.), warn that business will not (and should not) be continued as usual.

Working Post Pandemic

In just over two months, the arrival of COVID-19 has forever changed the way that all industries in America will operate in the future. Stay-at-home orders and social distancing will undoubtedly remain the norm in the beginning stages of phased reopening, especially if subsequent outbreaks occur. But even in times when coronavirus activity is low, several oversights in safety and health that have been highlighted during the pandemic must be resolved before NYC reopens entirely.

Whether you are returning to work or simply planning on leaving your home, it is essential for all New Yorkers to know the new safety recommendations and guidelines required of worksites and businesses to help keep communities safe. Continuing to reduce the spread of COVID-19 will take everyone’s cooperation in NYC. As safety and health advocates, we believe all workers should be aware of their rights in regard to protections on the job. These are the changes you should expect to see at your workplace and what you can be doing to help advocate for your health.

New O.S.H.A. COVID-19 Safety Regulations

On April 8, O.S.H.A. announced new COVID-19 safety guidelines for operating businesses and worksites to help reduce the chance of spreading and contracting coronavirus on the job. Outlined in the press release, titled Ten Steps All Workplaces Can Take to Reduce Risk of Exposure to Coronavirus, the guidelines pertain to all workplaces, regardless of the industry or size:

  1. Encourage workers to stay home if sick.
  2. Encourage respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.
  3. Provide a place to wash hands or alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
  4. Limit worksite access to only essential workers if possible.
  5. Establish flexible worksites (e.g. telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g. staggered shifts), feasible.
  6. Discourage workers from using other worker’s phones, desks, or other work tools and equipment.
  7. Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces, equipment, and other elements of the work environment.
  8. Use Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.)-approved cleaning chemicals with label claims.
  9. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use of all cleaning and disinfection products.
  10. Encourage workers to report any safety and health concerns.

Reopening Construction Sites in New York

Now that construction sites are booming again in NYC, New York State officials have issued their own specific guidelines for the construction industry in line with the O.S.H.A. safety recommendations released in April. The guidelines list pertains to both employers and employees, and they are in addition to previous state and federal laws regarding safety on the worksite. The mandatory guidelines stay open or to reopen construction sites include:

Physical Distancing

  • Ensuring 6 ft. distance between personnel, unless safety or core function of the work activity requires a shorter distance.
  • Any time personnel is less than 6 ft. apart from one another, personnel must wear acceptable face coverings.
  • For any work occurring indoors, limit workforce presence to no more than 1 worker per 250 sq. ft. onsite, excluding supervisors in this calculation, unless additional personal protective measures are implemented.
  • Tightly confined spaces (e.g. elevators, hoists) should be occupied by only one individual at a time unless all occupants are wearing face coverings. If occupied by more than one person, keep occupancy under 50% of maximum capacity.
  • Employers must post-social distancing markers using tape or signs that denote 6 ft. of spacing in commonly used and other applicable areas on the site (e.g. clock in/out stations, health screening stations).
  • Limit in-person gatherings as much as possible and use tele- or video-conferencing whenever possible.
  • Establish designated areas for pick-ups and deliveries, limiting contact to the extent possible.

Protective Equipment

  • Employers must provide employees with an acceptable face covering at no cost to the employee and have an adequate supply of coverings in case of replacement.
  • Acceptable face coverings include but are not limited to cloth (e.g. homemade sewn, quick cut, bandana) and surgical masks unless the nature of the work requires stricter PPE (e.g. N95 respirator, face shield).
  • Face coverings must be cleaned or replaced after use or when damaged or soiled, may not be shared, and should be properly stored or discarded.
  • Limit the sharing of objects (e.g. tools, machinery, materials, vehicles) and discourage touching of shared surfaces; or, when in contact with shared objects or frequently touched areas, wear gloves or, sanitize or wash hands before and after contact.

Cleaning and Hygiene

  • Workplaces should adhere to hygiene and sanitation requirements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) and Department of Health (D.O.H.) and maintain cleaning logs on-site that document date, time, and scope of cleaning.
  • Employers should provide and maintain hand hygiene stations for personnel, including handwashing with soap, water, and paper towels, as well as an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing 60% or more alcohol for areas where handwashing is not feasible.
  • Employers should provide and encourage employees to use cleaning/ disinfecting supplies before and after the use of shared and frequently touched surfaces, followed by hand hygiene.
  • Regular cleaning and disinfection must be conducted at least every day, and more frequent cleaning and disinfection of shared objects (e.g. tools) and surfaces, as well as high transit areas, such as restrooms and common areas.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting of the site, shared surfaces, and other areas, as well as equipment and tools, should be performed using the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) products identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as effective against COVID-19.
  • Workplaces should prohibit shared food and beverages.

Communication

  • Employers should affirm they have reviewed and understand the state-issued industry guidelines, and that they will implement them.
  • Signage should be posted throughout the site to remind personnel to adhere to proper hygiene, social distancing rules, appropriate use of PPE, and cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
  • Employers must train all personnel on new protocols and frequently communicate safety guidelines and establish a communication plan for employees, visitors, and clients with a consistent means to provide updated information.
  • Supervisors will maintain a continuous log of every person, including workers and visitors, who may have close contact with other individuals at the worksite or area; excluding deliveries that are performed with appropriate PPE or through contactless means.
  • Conspicuously post completed safety plans on-site.

Screening

  • Employees who are sick should stay home or return home, if they become ill at work.
  • Worksites must implement mandatory health screening assessment (e.g. questionnaire, temperature check) before employees begin work each day and for essential visitors, asking about COVID-19 symptoms. Employers must follow state policy for allowing employees who test positive to come back to work.
  • On-site screeners should be trained by employer identified individuals familiar with CDC, DOH, and OSHA protocols and wear appropriate PPE, including at a minimum, a face covering.
  • Employers must have a plan for cleaning, disinfection, and contact tracing in the event of a positive case.

Find the full list of all mandatory and recommended safety guidelines for NYC construction sites here.

It is critical to protecting the health of workers, their families, and the community, that employers and contractors immediately prioritize the implementation of these new recommendations. We have seen how rapidly COVID-19 can spread and the grave repercussions it has bestowed on the patrons of NYC. Neglecting these safety guidelines can easily lead to secondary outbreaks, the reinstatement of work-stop orders, and, most important, the unnecessary loss of additional lives.

The Future of Construction

The hope of the new O.S.H.A. and NYS workplace safety guidelines for responding to COVID-19 is not only to reduce the spread of the virus but to increase safety and health in the industry going forward. Additional trends highlighted by Construction Dive that workers may see in returning to work include:

  • Cleaner workplaces.
  • Increased safety oversight.
  • Reduced need for unproductive meetings.
  • Increased telecommuting and new technology.
  • Longer deadlines and lead-times on supplies.
  • Fewer long or rotating shifts.
  • More support from employers and the community.

Union influence and participation is also expected to increase as NYC workers seek support in returning to work. Construction and trade unions have played a monumental role in ensuring that workers are protected during the pandemic, including shutting down non-essential sites at the peak of COVID-19 and advocating for more personal protective equipment on essential sites.

As stay-at-home orders subside, unions will be hard at work to ensure businesses are prioritizing the safety of their employees and adhering to the safety recommendations set forth by O.S.H.A. and NYS officials. Some in the construction industry are also focusing on issues related to hazard pay for essential workers that remained employed and actively working throughout the pandemic.

Advocate for Your Health

There is no excuse for employers and business owners not to take additional precautions to protect the health of their employees. Despite the declining trend of COVID-19 in the state, the virus is still present. One person on a worksite who contracts coronavirus can affect thousands of others: family members, loved ones, neighbors, coworkers, or any other individual they come into contact within the community. All New Yorkers must do their part to prevent a resurgence and protect the health of those around them, despite any negative implications it may have on profit.

Workers and tradesmen who feel they are being forced to work in an unsafe environment can file a complaint through the New York State Department of Labor. Unsafe working conditions could include being forced to work onsite when your job could be done from home, not providing personal protective equipment, or forcing employees to work they are sick.

For more information on what actions may qualify for filing a complaint, click here.

New York City Construction Accident Attorneys

It is more important than ever before to prioritize the health and safety of NYC workers. Deadlines and project revenue do not take precedence over the value of human life. Neglecting to require or implement safety measures to protect construction workers and tradesmen from accidents or from exposure to coronavirus is purely reckless and can have large scale consequences if an outbreak occurs.

At the law firm of Pazer, Epstein, Jaffe & Fein, we have been fighting for New York City workers and victims of construction accidents for over 60 years. If you or a loved one has sustained a serious construction injury or become ill due to a lack of safety precautions at your workplace, our knowledgeable accident attorneys are here to help. Contact us for a free consultation to review your case and your rights.

Sources

Walter, Alexander. “New York City reopens thousands of construction projects, mandating new safety standards.” Archinect News. (Retrieved May 17, 2020) https://archinect.com/news/article/150195745/new-york-city-reopens-thousands-of-construction-projects-mandating-new-safety-standards

“New York State on PAUSE.” New York State of Health. (Retrieved May 17, 2020) https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/new-york-state-pause

“Ten Steps All Workplaces Can Take to Reduce Risk of Exposure to Coronavirus.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (Retrieved May 17, 2020) https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3994.pdf

Goodman, Jenn. “The new normal: 8 ways the coronavirus crisis is changing construction.” Construction Dive. (Retrieved May 17, 2020) https://www.constructiondive.com/news/the-new-normal-8-ways-the-coronavirus-crisis-is-changing-construction/576681/

Brenzel, Kathryn. “Construction poised to resume, city considers hazard pay for workers.” The Real Deal. (Retrieved May 17, 2020) https://therealdeal.com/2020/04/30/construction-poised-to-resume-city-considers-hazard-pay-for-essential-workers/

“Complaints Related to COVID-19 Regulations.” NYS Department of Labor. (Retrieved May 17, 2020) https://labor.ny.gov/workerprotection/laborstandards/coronavirus-complaints.shtm

“U.S. Department of Labor Publishes New OSHA Poster Aimed At Reducing Workplace Exposure to the Coronavirus.” U.S. Department of Labor. (Retrieved May 17, 2020) https://www.osha.gov/news/newsreleases/national/04062020

“Reopening New York- Construction Guidelines for Employers and Employees.” New York State. (Retrieved May 18, 2020) https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/ConstructionShortGuidelines.pdf