With the novel Coronavirus now entering its fourth month since California’s governor issued the initial shelter-in-place orders, the construction industry is starting to resume activities in both the commercial and residential sectors. In a joint press release on April 29, 2020, the Counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and the City of Berkeley all agreed to resume construction work. (https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/new-bay-area-covid-19-orders-ease-96749/)
“Under the new orders, all construction projects will be allowed to resume as long as the project complies with safety protocols included with the order.”
Safety protocols, required for construction to resume, are different from social distancing requirements and vary county to county. For example, in Santa Clara County, the “Small Construction Project Safety Protocol (SCP)” including public works, residential projects, commercial projects and mixed use projects, requires
- Full compliance with all OSHA and Cal-OSHA applicable and current laws and regulations.
- Designation of a site-specific COVID-19 supervisor Job Site Safety Administrator (JSSA), daily screening protocol for all workers.
- Full compliance with all CDC guidelines.
- Separated work areas sealed off from the remainder of the units with physical barriers.
- Face coverings.
- Limited number of works in shifts/rotations.
- Providing personal protective equipment.
- Hand washing facilities and sanitation stations.
- Staggering of trades to maintain the requisite six-foot separation protocol (among others).
On May 12, 2020, Cal-OSHA issued a revised guidance for construction and another guidance on May 13, 2020 for infection prevention in construction. It is imperative to consult both specific county and city regulations regarding COVID-19 restrictions prior to resume construction work.
However, these protocols have come into question by the labor unions, including the United Contractors (UCON). “We have serious concerns and oppositions related to aspects of the new order,” says Emily Cohen, executive vice president of UCON. “We believe many of the new requirements are arbitrary, unworkable and a step backward for heavy civil engineering construction.” UCON has established a COVID-19 Resources page to assist contractors in understanding all of the new requirements. The Associated General Contractors (AGC) of California agrees: “Upon initial review, the order includes a third-party COVID-19 supervisor, a requirement not advocated for by AGC,” the organization told members in an email.
Associate Builders and Contractors of Northern California (ABC NorCal) echoed the sentiment. Michele Daugherty, president and CEO of ABC NorCal, asked how one qualified to be a JSSA, if there are county registration processes to become a JSSA, who is responsible for storing reports for county review and who at the counties will review them. “Is the JSSA responsible for the whole project or does each trade/contractor on the job need a JSSA,” Daugherty asks. “This is now adding another body on the jobsite.”
Despite the opposition, the revised California orders and local orders have allowed construction activities to resume as California enters Phase 2 of the Reopening plans.