As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge across some parts of the country, jurisdictions are cracking down on construction firms that don’t follow jobsite guidelines for social distancing, handwashing and other coronavirus-related precautions.
Many areas have given 30-day grace periods as businesses learned about the new rules, but now some building departments have indicated the time for leniency is over. In places like New York City, Austin, Texas, and Montgomery County, Maryland outside of Washington, D.C., officials spoke out last week to put noncomplying contractors on notice.
Austin said it will take employers to court if they have several violations of the city’s emergency rules and will issue fines of up to $2,000. The construction industry in Austin has been among the businesses reporting the most COVID-19 outbreaks, with six clusters since June 25.
In Maryland, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said officials will begin visiting construction sites that are not obeying mask policies. The county will first issue a warning, then begin closing construction sites that do not comply, he said during a news briefing last week.
The crackdown is part of an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus among Montgomery County’s large Latino population, many who work in construction.
“We’re going to shut down construction sites where people aren’t working safely. Because these folks, if they’re exposed to the coronavirus, they’re bringing it back to their community,” Elrich said. “They often live in the more crowded housing in the county. So anything that comes back to those communities is more likely to have community transmission. So we’re going to double down on that work.”
Members of the public are helping officials to spot infringements on construction sites. Since March 30, New York City residents lodged 6,127 complaints against contractors for potential COVID-19 jobsite safety protocol violations, using the city’s nonemergency 311 phone system. According to Austin city officials, there have been more than 150 calls made to 311 regarding construction sites since the beginning of April.
Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden told KXAN that if there are multiple 311 calls about one place or person, the city will first try to get the site or person to voluntarily make changes and follow the rules.
“Initially our goal is to get voluntary compliance. That is our hope for everyone,” she said. “In the event things are not implemented, we will move forward and provide a citation to them and take those individuals to court.”
Elrich said alone the health department received 70 photos from residents showing apparent noncompliance at local businesses, noting that the county has already shut down restaurants and will do the same for offending construction sites.
In Nevada, on June 23, OSHA officials fined the joint venture in charge of construction at the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium for a “serious” coronavirus-related violation. The $13,494 fine relates to two incidents in April regarding a lack of social distancing and included 35 photos detailing various employees working in close proximity to each other and in line to get their temperatures taken, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Dozens of workers at the site have been infected with COVID-19 since March.
OSHA noted employees at the site were not abiding by the 6-feet-minimum social-distancing requirement, noting that two 65-foot boom lifts were operating, each of which had three men per basket in violation of the two-person-per-basket regulation. The fine is the maximum penalty for a serious OSHA violation. Repeat violators can face a fine of $134,937 for each violation.
The JV denied the offense, saying in a statement that it is committed to complying with all health and safety regulations.
“Our team has actively communicated and diligently enforced evolving Nevada OSHA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requirements with our project partners and up to 2,000 workers on site each day,” it reads. “Our team has continued to make changes and adjustments as needed or identified in an effort to protect everyone on the project.”