COVID-19 AND THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY

Here's How You Can Protect Your Business
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New Guidelines Released for Construction Sites following Tennessee’s Reopening

Many states across the U.S. have released their own guidance on COVID-19 for businesses to follow, with varying degrees of clarity. Fortunately, the state of Tennessee has released detailed guidelines for businesses, including construction businesses, to follow now that the state is allowing most non-essential businesses to reopen. Below, a construction lawyer in Clarksville, TN, provides an overview of the guidelines for construction worksites.   

Even if your construction business continued offering essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to be mindful of these guidelines. They were created with the input of private sector working groups in partnership with Tennessee’s Economic Recovery Group, and they may prove to be invaluable for your business. 

The “Tennessee Pledge”

As part of the “Tennessee Pledge,” the construction worksite guidelines include safeguarding protocols based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These guidelines are meant to be helpful and do not supersede any federal laws or standards, meaning that contractors will still need to follow guidelines issued by OSHA, the CDC, and the Tennessee Department of Health. Consult a construction law attorney in Clarksville, TN, for assistance complying with safety regulations from multiple sources. 

Providing a Safe Work Environment 

Tennessee is recommending many steps that your jobsite should already be familiar with. To begin, construction employers should screen all employees and visitors for possible cases of COVID-19. Ask if the employee has been around anyone confirmed to have COVID-19. Ask about their symptoms and check if they align with the reported symptoms of COVID-19. In addition to screening questions, you should perform temperature screenings on employees and subcontractors, preferably with a no-touch thermometer. Keep in mind that temperatures should not exceed 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Related: Do Contractors Have to Record Cases of COVID-19?

Sending and Keeping Sick Workers Home 

Employees should be immediately sent home and encouraged to contact a doctor or undergo COVID-19 testing if they experience symptoms of the virus. In fact, all employees should be encouraged to stay home if they are exhibiting symptoms, confirmed to have COVID-19, or have come in contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19. Older employees and employees with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for severe illness and should also be encouraged to stay home. Even though your workforce may take a hit from these precautions, they are essential for preventing the spread of the virus. 

Related: COVID-19: Managing Employees With Pre-Existing Conditions

Disinfecting Tools and Surfaces 

The CDC now emphasizes that the virus does not spread easily on surfaces and that person-to-person contact is the main way the virus spreads. But the virus still has the potential to spread this way if someone touches a surface with the virus on it before touching their face, and Tennessee’s guidelines still ask construction employers to take precautions. Limit the sharing of tools on your jobsite. Preferably, no worker should be handing an object to another person. Tools and objects should be disinfected after every use and if sharing is unavoidable. Clean all surfaces on construction equipment at the beginning and end of each shift. Essentially, if it’s a surface that can be touched by a worker, it’s your responsibility to have it disinfected. Consult a construction attorney in Franklin, TN, if you have any questions regarding your responsibilities as an employer in the eyes of CDC and OSHA. 

Requiring the Use of Personal Protective Equipment and Face Coverings

Face coverings should be recommended to workers in close proximity to one another. Although Tennessee stipulates this is only a necessary precaution when social distancing is impossible, we recommend having all workers wear cloth face coverings at all times. Many people who have COVID-19 are asymptomatic, meaning that they don’t display any symptoms at all. Having your workers wear cloth face coverings can help prevent the spread of the virus among workers who are unaware that they are sick. As the guidelines state, even a simple bandana can help. 

Related: COVID-19: Preventing Workplace Exposure in Construction

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as eye protection and gloves, can also help prevent the spread, but be sure that your workers are taking the necessary precautions with these items. PPE should not be shared, and reusable PPE should be disinfected after each use. Additionally, your employees should still follow proper hygiene practices even after using disposable PPE, such as disposable gloves. 

Promoting a Safe Work Environment 

Speaking of good hygiene, your employees must do their part to ensure a safe work environment. You can help them by providing handwashing stations with disposable towels as well as eye and face protection and disposable gloves when they are cleaning. You may not be able to control what your employees do when they are off the clock, but you can foster a safe work environment while they are on your time. 

Related: Overcoming Social Distancing Challenges on Your Jobsite 

As mentioned, COVID-19 is mainly spread through person-to-person contact. Therefore, one of the best things you can do for your employees and business is to encourage social distancing. Tennessee guidelines recommend that construction companies prohibit congregation, prohibit carpooling, restrict access to confined areas, and stagger shifts and break times to ensure that social distancing standards (at least six feet) are being followed. It’s of vital importance that all subcontractors and sub-subcontractors follow these guidelines; COVID-19 doesn’t care if adjacent workers have different employers. 

Being Transparent With Employees 

Finally, Tennessee guidelines discuss the importance of informing employees of their rights, a notion our attorneys agree with entirely. You should inform your employees of their expanded family and medical leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The FFCRA allows up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for coronavirus-related reasons. Additionally, because your business will be privy to employees medical information, you must be respectful of their privacy. Your employees are entitled to know if a coworker has tested positive for COVID-19, but they are not entitled to know the identity of that worker. Revealing confidential medical information could result in a violation of federal anti-discrimination laws, such as the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA). Consult a construction law attorney in Franklin, TN, for more information. 

Related: 5 Common Questions Employers Have About the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Reaching for a Helping Hand

Over the course of this article, we’ve discussed numerous recommendations made by Governor Bill Lee, the Unified Command Group, and Tennessee’s Economic Recovery Group in the “Tennessee Pledge.” These recommendations may prove to be invaluable to contractors operating in The Volunteer State. However, discerning the difference between a recommendation and a federal law may prove to be as challenging as ever, especially during the ongoing pandemic. 

At Cotney Construction Law, we understand the many challenges facing construction employers during this difficult time. We are here to help you cut through the confusion regarding state and federal recommendations and regulations and provide your workers with a safe, hazard-free work environment. If you have any questions in the coming months regarding your responsibilities as an employer, don’t hesitate to contact a construction lawyer in Brentwood, TN, with Cotney Construction Law. Our attorneys will help ensure your success during this pandemic and long after. 

If you would like to speak with a construction law attorney in Brentwood, TN, please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.