What does “appropriate social distance” mean on a construction site?

What does “appropriate social distance” mean on a construction site?
The number 1 question that AGC NYS staff has been fielding lately has related to the latest ESD Guidance relative to social distancing on construction jobsites. Effectively, the question is whether workers must maintain 6’ separation at all times or are there are instances where that distance can be reduced where necessary if other appropriate precautions are taken. As has been noted in the myriad questions we have received on this — absent some flexibility in this regard, most construction projects would need to shut down.
As we have answered that question, we have looked at the language itself “appropriate” which seems a flexible term that can be reduced based on the use of PPE, the guide for all essential business that says “to the extent possible” and, CDC and OSHA guidance in this regard. In addition, we had looked at agency guidance from such as the MTA, which allows for lesser separation when necessary.
We recognize that questions still remain on this and that it is causing some owners, contractors and/or subcontractors on projects to be uncertain of the rules and thus extremely cautious. We also found that the latest EO relative to the wearing of masks by all in NYS when within 6’ to further confuse the matter so we reached out to the Governor’s Office to request clarification and as an example, provided a copy of the MTA Guidance in this regard. In an e-mail to AGC NYS yesterday, we were told:
“I think we are not going to give a construction site the same leeway as say a hospital. There is social distancing impossibilities in both, but I think the intention was to be a bit stronger on construction sites. The way we interpret this is that social distance is “appropriate” if it can be demonstrated that either have people working 6’ apart, or to the extent say you’re working in a tunnel you have protective equipment (PPE) and disinfection protocols. There is not a blanket, well we really can’t be distanced because it isn’t convenient so we will wear masks instead. Masks and facecoverings in a health setting mean really different things versus what it means on a construction site. So we don’t see it as anything other than “reducing” the spread but not eliminating.”
This pretty well tracks what AGC NYS staff has been advising.  Generally maintain the 6’ distancing but, where absolutely necessary to close that gap, fully implement proper protections. While we would prefer the language in the ESD Guidance were a bit more clear along these lines, we feel that is consistent with the general tone of the current guidance. It is important to note here that you must put the protocols in place, communicate those protocols to your employees and subcontractors, that you document those actions and that you engage in and document enforcement of those protocols.
AGC NYS recommends the use of face coverings at all times while working on site regardless of whether you interact with the public or not. For employees that encroach on social distance protocol where 6’ separation is not maintained, face masks must be worn. Consideration for requiring masks at all times where this potential exists is prudent and recommended.
For more on the proper safety protocols, be sure to check out resources on the AGC NYS website.
Also, consider joining the AGC NYS “Assessing your COVID-19 Workplace/Executive Order Compliance” Webinar on Tuesday, April 21, 2020 beginning at 10AM. Register here.

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