Before the Delta variant caused COVID-19 cases to surge this summer, it appeared we were on the verge of leaving behind jobsite protocols like social distancing and facial coverings. Now, with updated CDC and OSHA guidance that those practices and others should continue in public indoor settings to reduce the spread of COVID-19, how should construction contractors proceed?
We surveyed a number of contractor associations and construction contractors to find out how they plan to keep workers safe this fall. [Note: these responses were gathered prior to the CDC’s recent recommendation to resume the use of facial coverings for fully vaccinated people in certain settings.]
“LIUNA signatory contractors will continue to lead the way on protecting members from COVID-19,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “That includes policies and procedures that protect workers on the job, especially during time spent indoors and in enclosed areas, and by promoting COVID-19 vaccination for all workers.”
Social Distancing, Facial Coverings and Other Protocols
Most contractors surveyed plan to continue social distancing, though some only planned to do so for unvaccinated workers. Fewer contractors planned to continue the use of facial coverings, with some noting it would depend on what local jurisdictions require.
Almost all contractors surveyed plan to continue regular surface cleaning, use of hand sanitizer and temperature checks. Plans to continue use of plastic barriers and gloves were more mixed.
No contractors had plans to require their workers to get vaccinated, though many were encouraging workers to do so. A small number of contractors were providing vaccinations on site, although none were providing COVID-19 testing. Some contractors were providing a hard hat sticker or wrist band to help distinguish between fully vaccinated and unvaccinated workers. OSHA recommends that employers encourage their workers to get vaccinated and take steps to facilitate them doing so.
All of the contractors surveyed were unanimous that if a worker tested positive, they should stay home or leave work if they found out about a positive test at work. Contractors were less concerned about reporting cases to the CDC or recording cases in their OSHA 300 logs. While OSHA has been clear that employers should record any COVID-19 cases that are work-related, making that determination with certainty is often difficult.
All the contractors surveyed planned to hold toolbox talks or provide information to workers and supervisors about the hazards of COVID-19 and its symptoms. OSHA recommends training workers on these aspects of COVID-19 as well as workers’ right to raise safety concerns related to COVID-19 without retaliation.
Vendors and Visitors
This section in particular had the broadest mix of responses. Some contractors had no requirements for visitors, while others said visitors would be encouraged (or in some cases required) to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Others were planning on instituting policies based on vaccination status. OSHA currently recommends that all visitors wear face coverings in indoor settings in areas of high transmission.
All the contractors surveyed planned to continue these precautions as long as they are needed, until new CDC guidance is issued or until their federal OSHA or state OSHA program releases a standard that covers the construction industry.
Importance of Continued Guidance
While the individual answers varied, overall, these results show a willingness on the part of construction contractors to follow guidance issued by the CDC and OSHA. Even in the absence of a binding standard at the federal level or in most states, the construction contractors we surveyed are generally taking steps to closely follow recommendations and guidance, even as it changes over time. This shows the importance of OSHA continuing to issue clear, strong policies and procedures that protect workers from COVID-19.