This post was authored by Jonathan Schaefer, who is a member of Robinson+Cole’s Environmental, Energy + Telecommunications Group. Jon focuses his practice on environmental compliance counseling, occupational health and safety, permitting, site remediation, and litigation related to federal and state regulatory programs.
The results of a recently published study show that construction workers in Texas were more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to the general population. An equally problematic finding is that the increased hospitalization of construction workers resulted in greater community spread of COVID-19. This study and its findings are a much-needed reminder to stay vigilant and continue to monitor and enforce COVID-19 safety precautions and guidelines.
The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), reviewed hospitalization records in the Austin-metro area between March and August of this year. The researchers found that construction workers were five times more likely than other occupations to be hospitalized with COVID-19.
The researchers also found that the continuation of unrestricted construction amid shelter-in-place orders, combined with the close proximity within which construction work is conducted, contributed to an increased COVID-19 transmission in the Austin-metro area. The correlation between unrestricted work in high-contact industries such as construction and a higher level of community transmission also seemed to translate into an increased threat to at-risk workers, as well as larger health disparities among members of racial and ethnic minority groups.
Fortunately, the study found that implementing safety measures can offset the increased transmission risk in unrestricted construction by 50 percent. Such measures include thorough cleaning of equipment between uses, wearing of protective equipment, limits on the number of workers at a worksite, and increased health surveillance.
These measures, along with many others, are included in OSHA’s COVID-19 guidance for construction employers, as well as guidance, regulations, and other requirements issued by a multitude of state, municipal, and building departments, some of which have been previously discussed on this blog here and here.
Granted, such restrictions, guidance, regulations, and requirements may, eight months into the pandemic, be increasingly more challenging to enforce. Yet, the study’s findings are a useful reminder of the importance and value in doing as much as possible to prevent, or at least limit, the spread of COVID-19, particularly with its more potent health impact on the construction industry, its workers and their larger community.