Construction Law

COVID-19: Preventing Workplace Exposure in Construction featured image

COVID-19: Preventing Workplace Exposure in Construction

As many workplaces around the world close their doors in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the majority of jobsites across the country remain open. Without an active vaccine for coronavirus and the number of individuals contracting the disease rising every day, it’s critical that construction employers do everything in their power to prevent workplace exposure and mitigate concerns before they become a problem. 

In this editorial, Sarasota construction attorneys with Cotney Attorneys & Consultants will discuss coronavirus as it relates to the construction workplace. If you are interested in learning more about preventive steps to take to reduce the chances of exposure on your jobsite, we encourage you to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. If you are concerned about the ways coronavirus can negatively impact your business, consult a Sarasota construction attorney.  

How Does COVID-19 Spread?

Although we are still learning a lot about the disease, it’s widely believed that coronavirus spreads from person-to-person contact. This occurs between individuals in close proximity or through respiratory droplets that are spread by an infected person when they sneeze or cough. Although people who are exhibiting symptoms are believed to be more contagious, it’s possible for the disease to spread without the person showing any signs of sickness. 

Several recent studies support that COVID-19 can be spread when a person touches a contaminated surface and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes. Although this isn’t believed to be the most common way the disease is spread, the virus is highly contagious and classified as a “community spread” disease, meaning it can easily spread in locations with a high number of cases. 

What Construction Businesses Need to Know

Whether you work on a jobsite or in an office space, the main goal of this article is to provide guidance to construction employers so that they can effectively prevent workplace exposures and reduce the chances of coronavirus impacting their workplace. With the assistance of our Lakeland construction attorneys, here are a few ways construction firms can reduce the spread:

Sick Employees Should Stay Home

Although construction projects require a productive workforce to reach tight deadlines, site managers need to encourage any team member that is sick to stay home. This is especially important for any worker that is experiencing the symptoms of a fever, cough, or shortness of breath. If a worker believes they are getting sick, they should notify their supervisor and remain at home until they have recovered. This process, known as self-isolation, is when a person remains in doors and avoids contact with other people until they get better. 

Construction firms need to be in close communication with their workforce, with their subcontractors, and any staffing agencies they use for projects. It’s critical that everyone present on the jobsite understands that sick workers are a danger to themselves and those around them. Construction firms need to make sure that everyone working on the project is fully aware that sick employees at the workplace cannot be present and that everyone is aware of the potential symptoms of coronavirus.    

If you believe that an employee is sick at work, immediately separate them from their coworkers and send them home until they improve. To stop the spread of coronavirus, it’s critical that construction firms closely monitor the workplace, separate any sick workers from their coworkers, and strongly encourage sick employees to stay away from the jobsite.  

Improving Sick Leave Policies 

In order to actively encourage workers to comply with the request to stay home, construction firms should review their employee handbook, including their sick leave policy. If the current policy is strict or inflexible, employers should consult a Lakeland construction attorney on ways they can adjust their policy to accommodate their workforce. In some cases, this could include allowing employees time away from work to care for their immediate family members. 

Here are some other things construction firms should consider:

  • Do not require employees to provide a note from their healthcare provider if they are sick with an acute respiratory illness. Medical offices are extremely busy, and your employee may not be able to obtain certification in a timely fashion.
  • Sick individuals should call their healthcare provider to accurately diagnose their symptoms. The employee should self-isolate unless they are instructed to visit their healthcare provider or if the symptoms are severe. 
  • If an employee contracts coronavirus, they will most likely have mild symptoms and recover within weeks. Even though the symptoms may be mild, they need to understand that they are contagious and can spread the disease to other people. 
  • Reach out to your subcontractors and staffing agencies to ensure they have non-punitive policies in place to ensure that all workers can take time away from work if they need it. Just as you need to review your employee policies, so do the other professionals you work with.  
  • Consult our Sarasota construction lawyers to review your company’s sick leave policy to ensure it’s consistent with current public health guidelines and federal and state laws. We can also provide insight into any medical leave related questions. 

Maintaining a Clean Workplace

There are several ways a construction company can maintain a clean workplace that reduces the chances of coronavirus affecting the jobsite. Along with encouraging all sick employees to stay at home, construction firms need to train their employees on ways they can sanitize their work area. Promoting workplace cleanliness initiatives and providing plenty of supplies (soap, water, hand sanitizer, disposable wipes) around the jobsite promotes cleanliness and good hygiene. 

Construction firms should also develop a system for regularly cleaning their surrounding environment. Any areas of the workplace that see a high amount of traffic should be frequently cleaned. Place disposable wipes near commonly used objects, including equipment, tools, and even doorknobs to ensure they remain clean. Take the necessary steps to ensure your workplace is thoroughly cleaned every day.   

Taking Additional Steps 

Along with updating work policies, encouraging sick employees to remain home, and keeping a clean workplace, employers need to consider a variety of other factors related to the potential spread of coronavirus, including:

  • Checking for Symptoms: Everyone located on the jobsite needs to be educated on ways they can check for symptoms of acute respiratory illness. Moreover, any employees that are concerned with their health should call out sick and self-isolate. 
  • Traveling Employees: Coronavirus is a “community spread” disease. If your firm requires employees to travel, or you have multiple jobsites open across the country, you need to stay on top of the latest news and the severity of the spread of coronavirus in those locations. 
  • Maintain Confidentiality: If employees require medical care for COVID-19 symptoms, employers should be proactive and notify their workforce of possible exposure; however, they should also maintain confidentiality of the ill coworker to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Consult a Lakeland construction lawyer for legal advice related to the ADA. .    
  • Performing a Risk Assessment: As the spread of coronavirus increases throughout the country, employers will need to assess the severity of the disease in their community, be mindful of employees who are at a high risk of being impacted, and develop a plan if large numbers of employees are out of work. Employers may also need to eventually develop an outbreak response plan like the one that was recently deployed in Boston, where construction came to a screeching halt.  

Regardless of what tomorrow brings for your community, construction employers need to begin to implement strategies that promote the health and safety of their workers that potentially reduce the impact of COVID-19. As the construction sector will be impacted in a variety of ways, consult a Sarasota construction law firm for all of your legal needs during this challenging time.  

If you would like to speak with our Sarasota construction attorneys, 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.