It is not business as usual for Florida’s construction industry despite being considered an “essential service” under Florida’s safer-at-home order. Employers should always – but especially now – ensure that all onsite workers are aware of and are following all available health and safety guidance available from sources such as the CDC, OSHA, and construction trade groups.
Workplace Safety Guidelines
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued non-industry-specific guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19. In addition to universal tips on handwashing, cleaning surfaces and monitoring symptoms, the guidance recommends staggered schedules for pre-shift meetings, new employee orientations and other in-person meetings. It also suggests telephonic or outdoor meetings when a group has to convene.
OSHA is also enforcing the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which pre-dates COVID-19. Relevant clauses from the Act include:
- General Duty Clause: Employers must furnish a work environment “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”
- Protective Equipment (PPE) Standard: Employees must use gloves, eye, and face protection when necessary.
- Respiratory Protection Standard: Employers must implement a full respiratory protection program (including medical fit testing) when respirator usage is mandated by the employer. N-95 “dust masks” are classified as respirators per this standard.
Employers are also encouraged to follow CDC guidelines, including that employees wear fabric face coverings if social distancing of six feet or more is difficult to maintain.
Lastly, Employers should follow their own state and local laws, which may require additional health and safety protocols and are being updated regularly.
What if you Fail to Implement the Safety Guidelines?
The problem is obvious – social distancing may be impossible at many construction sites as workers are often in close quarters in areas that are not well-ventilated.
Failing to comply with these guidelines may lead to legal risk and liability. Claims may include allegations of exposure resulting in bodily injury and property damage as well as failure to implement an appropriate plan in response to the global health crisis and associated risks.
The first lawsuits are already trickling in. OSHA is investigating an Amazon warehouse following complaints from workers that the company is not doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the facility. A similar lawsuit has been filed against Walmart by the family of an employee who died after contracting COVID-19 at work. The complaint alleges that Walmart failed to follow relevant guidelines for