As the first full week of May kicks off what would normally be National Construction Safety Week, more than 5,200 construction projects have reopened in New York City.
The newly reopened worksites, as well as more slated to come as New York’s phased reopening schedule begins later this month, provides an opportunity to redefine what “safety” will mean in a post-pandemic world, and what precautionary and preventative measures may be adopted by employers in construction and other industries.
Building Sites Reopen, Offer Glimpse of New Workplace Safety Routines
As the nation’s hardest-hit city during the coronavirus pandemic, New York City has taken bold and aggressive steps toward containing COVID-19. Businesses were shuttered, residents were told to stay at home, and construction – the industry responsible for much of NYC’s prolific growth and prosperity – was largely halted.
Now, a month after roughly 85% of NYC construction sites were closed under orders declaring them non-essential, hundreds of sites are opening back up each day, largely due to efforts by labor groups and lobbyists who promote a gradual reopening of work they say is critical to an economic recovery.
Those that were closed or are just now beginning to start back up have been closely monitored by the Department of Buildings:
- Inspectors visited every closed construction site (about 30,000) at least three time since Gov. Cuomo limited construction work in March;
- At least 115 sites that remained open were cited for violations.
As of Tuesday, April 28, the New York Times reports, work was being done at more than 5,200 projects across the City – from Hudson Yard’s Spiral office tower to residential renovations in Far Rockaway.
While Gov. Andrew Cuomo has stated construction will be among the first sector permitted to fully resume operations as New York’s phased reopening schedule begins this month, many workers and advocates worry about safety on worksites, particularly due to the difficulty of maintaining social distancing.
Still, sites that reopen are taking a new approach to safety in a world that’s been forever changed by a still-growing global pandemic – and that approach may become a model that educates other employers on what does and doesn’t work when it comes to keeping employees safe.
Construction Safety Week: New Meaning for Workplace Safety
National Construction Safety Week stresses the importance of prioritizing safety, sound workplace practices, and regulatory compliance in construction, and has many educational resources for workers, employers, and communities.
Although Safety Week has been officially postponed this year, organizers remains committed to construction safety amid COVID-19, and to raising awareness about the ways safety on construction sites is taking on a whole new meaning.
That’s evident in the many precautions being taken on construction sites across the City, and the many changes being proposed. These include:
- Testing workers’ temperatures with thermal forehead scans prior to the start of each day;
- Floor markings on sites and in elevators to maintain social distancing;
- New processes for handling deliveries, such as having cargo unloaded by workers while drivers remain in vehicles;
- Increased site security and entry control, often with the use of turnstiles;
- New policies for daily huddles or morning briefings to be held in smaller groups, and for workers to maintain distance and avoid congregating during breaks;
- Additional hand-washing stations and running water;
- New work schedules with staggered start times to avoid large numbers of workers on a site at the same time;
- Proposals to allow 24/7 construction on some projects; currently, NYC only allows construction between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday without a special permit;
- Policies that encourage workers to stay at home, or to report potentially dangerous workplace conditions or violations of social distancing policies.
These and other practices provide hope that construction can resume safely and successfully. However, many say much of the work on construction sites is simply incompatible with social distancing. Installing walls or performing heavy lifts, for example, often requires multiple people to work close together.
Solutions to problems like these may be found in the supply chain and facilities that can pre-fabricate certain materials before they are sent to a work site and installed by as few workers as possible. Others are looking toward technology – such as thermal scanners that can remotely detect fevers without a hand-held thermometer, and hard hats fitted with devices to track worker movements and sound alerts when they’re too close to co-workers – to gather data to help modify workspaces, even if such approaches have an unshakable futuristic, sci-fi tone.
These types of strategies are likely to be proposed and utilized in other industries across the country.
NYC Construction Safety Amid COVID-19
At The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., we’ve been closely tracking the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on construction and workers who so often place their trust in our team to assist them in their legal matters after suffering injuries or illnesses on the job.
During these unprecedented times, we encourage everyone to make safety a priority, and to educate themselves about local laws, CDC guidelines, and what their employers are doing to ensure the safety of their workforce. Our blog also contains helpful information from our attorneys about work injury and coronavirus-related issues, including workers’ compensation amid COVID-19.
While so much is changing and new laws and policies evolve, our team at The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C. remains available to workers, residents, and families across New York City. If you have a potential injury case you’d like to discuss, please call or contact us online.