- In an open letter to the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters' (NASRCC) 13,000 members, Joseph Byrne, the organization's executive secretary-treasurer, advised that, effective April 21, the work stoppage directive issued earlier this month is no longer in effect for essential Massachusetts projects with acceptable COVID-19 safety protocols.
- The council has asked contractors to send them a copy of their COVID-19 safety plans for review. If the council believes that the measures are not adequate or that they are not being enforced on the jobsite, it said it could either direct workers to leave that particular project or not report at all. The NASRCC has also advised its members who are called back to work to make sure the council has approved safety protocols for those projects before reporting.
- Byrne also told members that his letter is not an order for them to return to work and that the advisory does not automatically pertain to all Massachusetts construction projects.
The International Union of Painters and Associated Trades District Council 35, which also directed its members to walk off Massachusetts projects around the same time the NASRCC did so, has not issued membership-wide guidance for a return to work but does have a system in place through which its signatory contractors can make "job-specific requests" to resume work.
Trade unions that made the decision to pull their members from jobsites have likely been under pressure to strike an acceptable balance between worker safety and the ability of their members to make a living. Some labor organizations, like the 52,000-member strong Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, which represents workers in Southern California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado, never advocated for a walk-off, although they advised members and employers to adhere to strict safety protocols.
District Council 35, as of April 22, is also requiring that its members take a coronavirus preparedness course that discusses how workers can stay healthy and prevent the spread of the disease.
OSHA takes the lead as far as establishing safety regulations for the construction industry and has the power to cite and fine contractors that run afoul of the rules. However, much of its current advice on jobsite safety in the age of COVID-19 is fairly general in nature and does relatively little to inform contractors on coronavirus best practices specific to their sectors.
The agency posted a set of COVID-19 guidelines for the construction industry, but attorney Phillip Russell, with Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak, & Stewart in Tampa, Florida, said that contractors would benefit from more targeted information and had a suggestion as to where contractors should turn for a more detailed rundown of how they can protect their projects and workers.
"Employers should look to industry associations in their specific construction niches for additional, more detailed guidance and suggestions," he said.
Russell said that both the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) is an example of an industry organization that has offered up more detailed guidelines, and is offering access to those and other safety information on its website. Other employer organizations providing protocols and best practices are the National Roofing Contractors Association, the Independent Electrical Contractors, Associated Builders and Contractors and the Associated General Contractors of America.
The Laborer's Health and Safety Fund of North America also offers free safety guidelines, information and toolbox talks on its website, as does the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.