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WA Expects to Reopen Residential Construction

Monday, April 27, 2020

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According to reports, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to reopen residential construction, among other types of construction projects, in the upcoming weeks while the state begins to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown.

The decision comes after a collaboration between the governor’s office and a construction advisory group recommended a three-phase plan to safely resume construction practices.

Advisory Group Plan

Consisting of representatives from the Associated General Contractors of Washington, Building Industry Association of Washington, Association of Washington Business and labor groups: Washington Building Trades, the Operating Engineers' and Carpenters' unions, among others, the construction advisory group was reported to submit its initial recommendation to Gov. Inslee early last week.

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According to reports, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to reopen residential construction, among other types of construction projects, in the upcoming weeks while the state begins to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown.

Since Inslee’s announcement of a stay-at-home order on March 23—which has since been extended to May 4—reports claim that there has been an ongoing debate over what deems construction projects “essential” or “non-essential.”

Specifically, the Daily Journal of Commerce reported that in Seattle, projects along the waterfront had continued without interruption since the outbreak, while other expansion and renovation projects remained closed.

To add to that, according to a survey update conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America between April 6-9, 830 respondents reported that as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, nearly 40% of firms had been forced to lay off employees. Officials add that 74% sought loans from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program and urged Congress to add more funding.

If that wasn’t alarming enough, Bisnow reported that construction workers filing for unemployment in the state of Washington spiked by 28,021 for the week ending March 28, a 1,315% increase.

“The steps firms are taking to protect workers from the coronavirus unfortunately won’t be enough to save many of them from the economic damage the pandemic is creating,” Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s Chief Executive Officer, said at the time of AGC’s first survey. “Construction workers and employers need more than a lifeline, they need a recovery plan.”

Following that initiative, AGC of Washington Executive Vice President David D'Hondt wrote to members in mid-April, predicting that the bulk of first-phase projects to be approved for work would involve “low-risk” jobs, such as commercial, residential and road building jobs where social distancing could be easily maintained.

“It's a collaboration between labor and management where every decision has been unanimous,” said D'Hondt.

Thus far, the group has issued a four-page proposal for phase one regarding safety measures required in order to reopen low-risk construction projects. Some highlights from the document include:

  • Every jobsite must have a COVID-19 supervisor present at all times to monitor the health of employees and enforce the COVID-19 safety plan;
  • A daily attendance log of all workers and visitors must be retained for at least four weeks;
  • Workers must wear gloves, goggles, face shields and face masks as appropriate;
  • Frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces on jobsites and in offices, such as shared tools, machines, vehicles and other equipment, handrails, doorknobs and portable toilets;
  • Minimized interactions when picking up or delivering equipment or materials; and
  • Workers coming from noncontiguous states to Washington must self-quarantine for 14 days before working.

However, the document also requires that all contractors develop and post a comprehensive COVID-19 exposure control, mitigation and recovery plan for all of their jobsites.

The postings must include policies on personal protective equipment use, social distancing, hygiene, sanitation, symptom monitoring, incident reporting, site decontamination procedures, COVID-19 safety training, exposure response procedures and a post-exposure incident project-wide recovery plan.

The advisory group adds that it is still waiting to hear back from the Division of Occupational Safety and Health of the state Department of Labor and Industries regarding approved PPE requirements, but expects that the second phase of projects will include the opening of jobs that can't meet social distancing requirements.

The second phase is expected to be released once DOSH issues a final ruling on required PPE.

Projects reopening in the third phase are expected to involve those with more technical issues, such as skyscrapers with crowded elevators and access to health and safety products.

However, Gov. Inslee says that the plan won’t move forward until the cases of the coronavirus have fallen enough that the state is able to manage future outbreaks

“We can modify some of these restrictions in the coming weeks, if the health modeling holds up,” Inslee said. But, “The health of Washingtonians is our top priority.”

Should things run accordingly, and reports improve, Inslee suggests that some elective surgeries and outdoor recreation could also return to normal.

Following these efforts, Inslee has issued a three-part plan for the state, which involves the protection of the health and safety of state residents, facilitating a safe start and transition to economic recovery and the support of all people and communities. Part of the governor’s plan also includes economic recovery efforts through worker training and small business development.

On the reopening of the state, Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary Mark Riker stated, “I’m optimistic that we will see some openings by May 4, but it will be challenging. It depends on how quickly our industry can educate and adapt to the changes. Until we get medication and vaccines we will have to change the way we behave on the job site.”

Other Reopening Plans

Also announced last week, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf issued a three-phase gradual reopening plan for the state’s economy, although House Republicans took matters into their own hands, passing along legislation that could allow various businesses to begin reopening even sooner.

The legislation involves the reopening of construction, auto sales, and retail stores, provided they practice social distancing and follow other COVID-19 mitigation measures.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan were also recently reported to have issued plans for reopening their respective jurisdictions while under coronavirus stay-at-home orders and social distancing protocols.

The Hill reports that many state governors are beginning to announce such plans and timelines for reopening. Although some states intend to cease stay-at-home orders beginning May 1, others have chosen later dates or are still undecided on the matter.

Earlier this month, President Donald J. Trump issued federal guidelines for state governors regarding the nation’s economic reopening. On the matter, Trump stated, “Governors will be empowered to tailor an approach that meets the diverse circumstances of their own states,” adding that some states would be able to open sooner than others.

Read all of PaintSquare Daily News' coverage on COVID-19, here.


Tagged categories: Construction; COVID-19; Economy; Good Technical Practice; Government; Health and safety; NA; North America; President Trump; Projects - Commercial; Residential Construction; Residential contractors; Safety

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