Construction Projects Under COVID-19

Workplace safety and health regulations in California require employers on construction sites to protect their workers from Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Cal/OSHA has posted guidance to help employers comply with these requirements and to provide workers with information on how to protect themselves and prevent the spread of the disease.  Cal/OSHA also requires that employers implement COVID-19 infection control measures, including applicable and relevant recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For most California workplaces (including construction), adopting changes to the IIPP is mandatory since COVID-19 is widespread.

Most counties or local public health departments in Northern California have issued specifications and guidelines for construction sites which require the preparation of a written site-specific health and safety plan. A COVID-19 safety protocol is required for large projects including public works projects; residential construction projects of more than 10 units; commercial projects of more than 20,000 square feet and any project that requires more than five or more workers at the jobsite at any one time.  Similar site-specific health and safety plans may be required at construction sites in Southern California and the Central Valley.

The site-specific health and safety plan must include a daily screening protocol for arriving workers, cleaning and sanitizing practices, prohibiting the sharing of PPE, carpooling, use of microwaves, water coolers and other shared equipment.  Daily screening should include questioning workers or visitors to the jobsite to ensure they are not sick and have not been in contact with a COVID-19 positive individual. As part of the screening, a daily attendance log of all workers and visitors must be maintained. The plan must be posted and must be translated so that non-English speaking workers are able to understand the plan.  Each project must also have a Safety Compliance Officer (SCO) assigned to the jobsite who is tasked with ensuring implementation of the COVID-19 program at the site.  The SCO must be on-site at all times.  There are no specific training requirements for the SCO other than knowledge of plan requirements.

Small construction projects do not require a written health and safety plan. However, most of the other requirements including face covering, social distancing and the designation of a site-specific COVID-19 supervisor are required.

The California Department of Public Health (and CDC) require the use of face covering for workers on construction sites in particular when working around others.  Wearing a cloth face covering does not eliminate the need to physically distance from others. Face coverings should be washed after each shift or discarded if they no longer cover the nose and mouth, have stretched out or have damaged ties or straps, cannot stay on the face, or have holes or tears.  Face covering should cover the nose and mouth at all times.  Social distancing of at least a six-foot distance between workers is required except as necessary to carry out a task. It is common on job sites to see workers wearing face covering below the nose and mouth.  This is particularly common when workers are talking to one another while working on the same task.

One of the more controversial requirements is that each “large construction” jobsite must have a COVID-19 Third Party Jobsite Safety Accountability Supervisor (JSAS) who is to complete a written assessment certifying to the county health department that the job is COVID compliant. The COVID-19 SCO must ensure the implementation of all recommended safety and sanitation requirements regarding the COVID-19 virus at the jobsite.  The SCO needs to conduct daily written verification that the job site is compliant with the large construction project protocol.  The Cohen Group is serving in the role as a JSAS, supporting the jobsite SCO as well as preparing the needed program and amendments to the IIPP.