Construction will resume May 1 in Pennsylvania, one of the few states in the country that shut down all but critical work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s guidance for restarting construction activity, developed with input from the General Contractors Association of Pennsylvania, includes many safety protocols that were unheard of on jobsites in the state before the pandemic.
Contractors returning to work will need new tools in their arsenal of safety precautions, including face masks for all employees, handwashing stations and staggered shifts.
The guidance requires that employers maintain a 6-foot minimum distance between all workers “unless the safety of the public or workers require deviation” such as with drywalling or team lifting work.
It also requires that companies identify a “Pandemic Safety Officer” for each project or worksite, or for each contractor on site at large-scale construction projects. This officer will convey, implement and enforce social distancing and other requirements of the governor’s order.
Construction firms must also:
Establish practices for handling employees with probable or confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Ensure all gatherings are limited to no more than 10 people, maintaining 6-foot social distancing when required to meet, even when outside.
Stagger shifts, breaks, work areas and/or stacking of trades where feasible to minimize workers on site.
Limit tool sharing and sanitize tools if they must be shared.
Employ jobsite screening based on CDC guidance to determine if employees should work and prohibit work of any employees with symptoms of COVID-19.
Prohibit unnecessary visitors to any project or worksite and limit supplier deliveries.
Ensure workers are traveling to and from the jobsite separately.
“As we start to take steps to reopen the state, we recognize that the construction industry is vital to Pennsylvania’s economy and may operate safely with stringent guidance in place that will protect employees and the public,” Wolf said, adding that local jurisdictions in the state may elect to impose more stringent requirements.
Other states with construction shutdowns are also preparing to lift restrictions. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has announced a phased reopening of the state's construction sites beginning on Friday and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said that construction work there will resume May 7.
In addition, Gov. Jay Inslee lifted some restrictions on construction work in Washington state last week, allowing it to resume on jobsites that meet the standards listed in his 30-point coronavirus construction safety plan. The plan includes strict requirements for social distancing, mask and eye protection for all workers and site-specific COVID-19 supervisors on all projects.
Numbers on site
The governor’s guidance also limits the number of workers allowed in enclosed projects or spaces to no more than four people on jobsites of 2,000 square feet or less. One additional person is allowed for each additional 500 square feet of enclosed area over 2,000 square feet.
These numbers include employees of both general and subcontractors, but do not include delivery persons, code inspectors or others who require temporary access to the site and are not directly engaged in construction activity.
Residential construction projects may not permit more than four individuals on the jobsite at any time, not including individuals who require temporary access to the site and are not directly engaged in the construction activity.
Since Wolf initially halted nearly all construction activity March 21, the state implemented a waiver system that granted permission to keep some projects open. The waiver process ended April 3 and received 42,380 exemption requests, according to Centre Daily. The state authorized work to continue on projects that were deemed essential such as Mount Nittany Medical Center, emergency repairs to residential and commercial buildings and some PennDOT highway and bridge projects.