Understanding Covid-19 Construction Safety in California, and How It Will Continue to Evolve

7/23/2021

Covid-19 has created immense changes across multiple industries, including the construction industry--and California is, as usual, one of the first states to step up to the plate and embrace the latest changes, goals, and requirements.

In the construction industry, new safety requirements have placed the burden on employers. While these safety requirements are definitely here for the next couple of years, they're also likely to impact the future of the construction safety industry.

Construction workers using hand sanitizer.

Temporary Emergency Construction Safety Standards for Covid-19 

Construction sites already bear the burden of maintaining robust overall safety standards. Covid-19, however, has brought a stringent increase in safety standards that may continue for some time to come. 

Reporting Exposure

It's not just about employees who have definitely been exposed because people came to the job site sick, either. According to CA AB 685, employers must notify employees who have been exposed to individuals who may have been exposed to Covid-19 so that they can take appropriate safety precautions. They must also provide notification within 24 hours of being informed of the potential exposure. This is one of the first resolutions to put the burden of helping employees avoid illness on the employers directly. 

This measure has the potential to lead to considerable change in the way many construction companies operate their work sites. 

Temporary Disability for Covid-19 Exposure 

According to CA SB 1159, employees on construction sites can obtain disability certification for Covid-19 exposure and illness, which counts as an "allowable injury" under the disability designation. Covid-19 can bring with it long-haul symptoms that can prevent workers from getting back to work for a long time, especially if they struggle with ongoing weakness or trouble breathing, which can present serious problems on a construction site. 

In order to count for this provision, however, the injury must be sustained at the worker's place of work. In the case of Covid-19, that means the worker was exposed on a job site or at the office, not at home or while engaging in leisure activities. 

Reducing Illness Exposure

According to the Emergency Temporary Standards that govern what employers need to do in order to decrease the spread of COVID-19, there are several steps construction workers need to take, including "maximizing the quantity of outdoor air." In California, where weather is often favorable, this is a relatively simple option--especially when construction workers are already taking on outside tasks. As temperatures drop or rise, or workers need to move indoors, however, employers may need to look for options for increasing ventilation to the maximum possible standard.

The Potential Impact of Covid Standards on the Future of the Construction Industry

These changes in construction industry requirements could create immense changes in the future: not just adherence to these current standards as they spread out of California and across the country, but changes in the way the industry handles illness-related concerns in general.

Tracking Workers on Job Sites

On many job sites, it's difficult to track who is present. There are contractors, subcontractors, and equipment operators. Deliveries come in on a regular basis. Trash gets removed, sometimes by other specialists. Employees may be there for only a couple of days between other jobs. Construction sites are incredibly busy locations, and keeping track of exactly who has been there and on what day can prove incredibly difficult.

These new regulations, however, create the need to track traffic across each job site. Not only can this prove essential for tracking potential Covid-19 exposure, it can offer enhanced construction safety options in a variety of other settings and for a variety of other reasons. 

Keeping Up with Worker Movement

In that bustling construction environment, it can prove incredibly difficult to track exactly who a specific visitor interacted with. Some people may be on the site for only a couple of minutes and interact with only a couple of other workers. Others may move across the site, interacting with everyone there. Tracking movements across the construction site may prove difficult--but using the right technology can make it much easier. 

Changing Disability Requirements

Covid-19, while it has caused devastation across the country in the past year and a half, is not the only illness that can cause considerable limitations for construction workers. The flu, for example, can quickly leave workers hospitalized and lead to them spending weeks or even months in recovery. As policy-makers take a look at the benefits offered throughout the pandemic, they may also take a look at what options they provide for employees who have faced exposure to other illnesses as a result of work-related policies.

The Burden of Preventing Illness

As the pandemic has continued, more employers than ever before have considered the importance of avoiding the spread of illness on their job sites. They have changed ventilation and airflow through their facilities. They have provided hand sanitizing stations. They have spaced workers further apart and required them to wear face masks, many of which are employer-provided. During the pandemic, these measures aimed at helping increase overall worker health and confidence in the workplace.

Post-pandemic, however, many employers--and policy-makers--are taking a closer look at how the spread of illness can be prevented within the workplace. In some cases, employers may end up bearing a much heavier duty of care to their employees when it comes to offering measures that can decrease the overall spread of illness and provide them with the tools they need to stay healthy. Employers who do not meet those vital safety standards for their employees may, in the future, face penalties for that lack of care.

Mid-June Updates

On 6/17/21, California OSHA released revised requirements for current safety standards to help protect against COVID-19. These include:

  • Removing requirements for face coverings outdoors.
  • Removing the requirement for fully vaccinated employees to be tested or quarantined after close contact with individuals who have COVID-19, unless they have symptoms.
  • Removing requirements for fully vaccinated employees to wear face coverings indoors, as long as they can show proof of vaccination status.
    Providing approved respirators for employees upon request.
  • Decreasing distancing requirements, except during an outbreak (defined as 3 or more individuals in an exposed group).
  • Issuing a statement that employers cannot retaliate against employees who continue to wear face coverings, regardless of vaccination status.

July Updates

On 7/28/21, California Deparmtment of Public Health released revised guidelines for the use of face coverings in California.

  • Adds recommendation for universal masking indoors statewide
  • Adds Adult and Senior Care Facilities to settings where all individuals must wear masks indoors
  • References new requirements for unvaccinated workers in the State Health Officer July 26 Order

The pandemic is not at an end yet, and many of the measures already put in place will last for at least the next couple of years. One vital responsibility your workplace will bear is tracking the movements of workers around your construction sites--and we can help you achieve those goals.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you automate tracking your employees and notifying them of potential Covid-19 exposure if that issue does crop up on one of your work sites.