Like most industries across the globe, Ross Group has been thrust into a time of uncertainty due to the influx of COVID-19 across our footprint. However, as contractors we’re an essential business and our teams are still working safely and diligently to keep our projects moving, despite the situation. Earlier this month, we talked with Health, Safety, and Environmental Specialist Aaron Smith to gain some insight into what construction sites have been like these past months and what changes we could see in the construction industry over time.
How has the industry changed to combat safety risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
The novel coronavirus pandemic is a virtually unprecedented circumstance, so OSHA released guidance earlier this year highlighting existing standards in place and recommending additional measures employers should take to mitigate the spread of this highly contagious respiratory virus. At the same time, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) placed construction workers in the medium risk category. Contractors were already required to provide the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) needed for workers to do their jobs safely, but OSHA recommended additional PPE be made available on-site, including “some combination of gloves, a gown, face mask, and/or a face shield or goggles.” Other recommendations included physical barriers like clear plastic sneeze guards, strategies to minimize face-to-face contact, and limiting public access to job sites.
Ross Group has paid close attention to the recommendations and worked hard to educate employees on the recommended safety guidance, as COVID-19 is a potentially reportable and/or recordable illness under OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements. However, thus far OSHA has only enforced reporting COVID-19 cases in situations where there’s clear, objective evidence the virus was contracted at work. Overall, OSHA’s COVID-19 guidelines haven’t placed onerous additional requirements on the construction industry, but we will continue to evolve our internal response plan and safety standards as the pandemic continues.
Are we likely to have long-term changes to OSHA regulations?
COVID-19 has been a game changer to so many industries, but it doesn’t look as though we’ll see long-term OSHA safety standards published specifically to limit COVID-19 transmission. More likely, they will develop regulations regarding respiratory disease transmission overall. This would potentially affect guidelines for specific industries in the high risk category, like meat packing, where a large number of people are working indoors right next to each other. Those types of industries could be highly impacted and require major changes, such as facility renovations to limit personal contact.
Nevertheless, we can’t forget how long it takes to make changes to OSHA regulations. It could require years to implement new standards.
As we persist in navigating the extraordinary conditions of life during COVID-19, Ross Group will continue to do everything in our power to keep our job sites, our employees, their families, and - in turn - the community at large safe, healthy, and strong.
To learn more about protecting your workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, check out https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf.