As construction season ramps up amidst the threat of COVID-19 exposure, construction employers and workers need to understand how they can protect themselves on the job site. New OSHA guidance provides insights into assessing each worker’s risk level and highlights controls to help prevent worker exposure to the virus.
The guidance identifies four levels of risk for construction work tasks:
- Lower risk: Tasks that allow employees to remain at least 6 feet apart and involve little contact with the public, visitors, or customers.
- Medium risk: Tasks that require workers to be within 6 feet of one another or tasks that require workers to be in close contact (within six feet) with customers, visitors or members of the public.
- High risk: Entering an indoor work site occupied by people such as other workers, customers or residents suspected of having or known to have COVID-19, including when an occupant of the site reports signs and symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
- Very high risk: While included in the guidance, OSHA notes that most construction work tasks are associated with no more than the high exposure risk level and that this category is not applicable for most anticipated work tasks.
OSHA encourages employers to conduct a job hazard analysis (JHA) to determine whether work tasks require contact within six feet between workers and customers, visitors or other members of the public. Furthermore, if a JHA identifies activities with higher exposure risks and those activities are not essential, employers should consider delaying those activities until appropriate prevention measures are implemented or once community transmission has subsided.
Along with these social distancing measures, the guidance lists engineering and administrative controls to prevent the spread of the virus. OSHA advises employers to, where feasible, use closed doors and walls as barriers to separate workers from anyone who may be experiencing signs and/symptoms consistent with COVID-19. If workers need to occupy an area of an indoor work site where they would be within six feet of someone suspected of having or known to have COVID-19, employers should consider erecting plastic sheeting barriers.
OSHA also advises construction employers to reassess any engineering controls over time to determine if they can make any changes to decrease the need for N95 respirators and other PPE used for activities that involve exposure to hazardous substances. This assessment can be used to help conserve PPE supplies so that it is available for activities with higher COVID-19 exposure risk.
Administrative controls involve training employees to recognize the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, as well as on how the virus could spread in their work areas. Employers should also assess potential exposures and circumstances in each work environment before worker entry.
Additional safe work practices could include screening visitors to the work site for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, staggering work schedules, ensuring social distancing throughout the work site, including in elevators and personnel hoists, and keeping in-person meetings as short as possible and limiting the number of workers in attendance.
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