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Last Restrictions Lifted from Boston Construction

Monday, June 29, 2020

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Boston construction is now in full swing after completing the last phase of its reopening of the industry, which began late last month.

The city recently completed safety plan approvals, which gave the nod to more than 3,000 different projects to proceed, including commercial and residential work.

City Background

On March 17, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh first banned all construction in the city for 14 days after reporting at the time that just 33 people were infected with COVID-19.

All projects—regardless of size—were stopped in the city except for what the Mayor called “emergency projects,” such as:

  • emergency utility, road or building work, such as gas leaks, water leaks and sinkholes;
  • new utility connections to occupied buildings;
  • mandated building or utility work;
  • work at public health facilities, healthcare facilities, shelters, including temporary shelters and other facilities that support vulnerable populations;
  • work which ensures the reliability of the transportation network; and
  • other work necessary to render occupied residential buildings fully habitable.

The city also said that it would evaluate projects on a case-by-case basis for exceptions, such as support for public health and safety.

vichie81 / Getty Images

Boston construction is now in full swing after completing the last phase of its reopening of the industry, which began late last month.

Walsh, who at one point ran the Building Trades Unions organization (which supported the decision), acknowledged that there were more than 100 large projects ongoing in the city. Crews were directed to maintain the necessary people to secure sites, which needs to be completed by March 23. Afterward, skeleton crews were permitted to ensure safety.

By the end of the month, Walsh had extended the moratorium indefinitely.

At the end of April, Boston began releasing guidelines for the construction industry to operate during the pandemic.

The rules mandated that all contractors need to create a “COVID-19 Safety Plan” that is to include how the contractor will enforce social distancing and provide the necessary sanitation. The contractors will have to sign affidavits swearing that they’ll follow the plans.

The rest of Boston’s reopening timeline was released in early May.

State Orders

At the end of May, however, Massachusetts Building Trades Council contended that some of the safety measures put different responsibilities on employees and employers.

MBTC President Francis Callahan sent a letter to Gov. Charlies Baker with several comments in response to Baker’s “Implementing a Phased Reopening of Workplaces and Imposing Workplace Safety Measures to Address COVID-19.”

Callahan’s letter took issue with the “zero tolerance” language, which mandates that workers take proper safety precautions and stay home if they’re sick; however, Callahan said that the measures don’t hold employers to the same requirements.

“The language for employer responsibilities stands in stark contrast to that for workers. In multiple provisions the requirements and responsibilities for employers are watered down with qualifiers including ‘if possible,’ ‘should,’ ‘recommend,’ ‘where feasible’ and even ‘please,” Callahan wrote.

“While we share the opinion that sick workers should not report to work the report needs to include similarly forceful language and emphasis when discussing the failure of employers to comply with the recommendations and standards spelled out in the report.  If we are truly all in this together, then the standards need to be the same for everyone. Zero tolerance must apply across the board.”

The MBTC wants the instruction amended to:

  • require the same strong "zero tolerance" tenets of the report for employers, not just workers;
  • clarify the report and Baker's order to require face coverings while on the job;
  • "fill in the gaps" of the state's reporting and tracking policy;
  • allow workers to refuse unsafe work conditions without losing pay; and
  • provide stronger whistleblower protections.

What Now

The MBTC concerns are still valid, as Boston continues to report positive cases of COVID-19.

However, Patrick Brophy, chief of operations for Walsh, said that it’s up to contractors on how they want to implement their revamping, as long as all safety measures are followed.

Some are bringing trades back one at a time, for example, or spreading out work in general.

“We are seeing action in every single ward, in all 22 wards of the city,” said Brophy.

“We are not seeing a whole lot of people shutting things down. … We are starting to see more traffic in the city and more life. Where you used to be able to fly into town in five or 10 minutes, it is now taking me 15 or 20 minutes.”

In addition to work sites, offices are also now allowed to reopen at 50% capacity.

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


Tagged categories: Commercial Construction; COVID-19; Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; Residential Construction; Safety

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