Construction Sites to Reopen on May 1 – Guidance for the Construction Industry

FLB Law      Apr. 28, 2020

Under new guidelines issued by the Wolf Administration in Pennsylvania, construction projects can reopen this Friday, May 1, 2020, as long as they observe social distancing rules. Previously, the Governor had ordered most construction projects to temporarily close down unless they were supporting life-sustaining businesses or were granted an exemption from the general “stay at home” order.

Even while reopening, there are a number of important safety guidelines that should be observed. Among other things:

  • Everyone on a job site must wear a mask/face covering unless they are unable for medical or safety reasons.
  • Individuals should stay six feet apart to the extent possible, though note there is an express exception to this requirement where people have to be closer than six feet for safety reasons, as when installing drywall or lifting heavy objects as a team.
  • Managers should stagger shifts, breaks, work areas and/or stacking of trades where feasible to minimize workers on site.
  • Individuals should limit tool sharing and sanitize tools if they must be shared.
  • Workers should travel to the job site separately and not share a vehicle whenever possible.

There are also restrictions on the number of individuals who can be present on a job site at any one time:

  • Residential construction projects are limited to four individuals on the job site at any time, including both prime and subcontractors, but excluding temporary access for deliveries, code inspections, and the like. Beginning May 1, 2020, in-person inspection and appraisals are generally allowed, as necessary.
  • For non-residential or commercial projects, the number of individuals permitted on enclosed portions of a project varies depending on the size of the site. For enclosed projects or portions of projects of 2,000 square feet or less, four individuals are allowed to be present at one time. One additional person is allowed per each additional 500 square feet.

For projects happening at the direction of the commonwealth, municipalities or school districts, the Governor’s  direction is to defer to those entities as to what projects may continue. Local governments have the ability to impose more stringent requirements within their particular jurisdictions.

Additional Guidelines

  • Each project is required to have a “pandemic safety officer” for the site, or for a large-scale construction project, each contractor should have its own pandemic safety officer. This pandemic safety officer has the responsibility to enforce social distancing and safety requirements at the site.
  • Each contractor should establish a specific protocol to activate upon discovery that someone on the site has a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19, including—without limitation—closing off affected areas and identifying individuals in close contact with the affected person.
  • Pennsylvania also strongly recommends that commercial construction firms strongly consider establishing a written safety plan for each work location containing site-specific details for the implementation of this guidance to be shared with all employees and implemented and enforced by the pandemic safety officer.

This challenging time also presents legal challenges in the construction industry. Many construction contracts require construction managers to provide a safe job site, and these requirements will inform those required safety standards. This gradual and partial reopening of construction projects may also have an effect on the applicability of force majeure clauses in construction contracts and affect required delivery dates.

In the event that you have any questions about requirements under the governor’s reopening order or how these events affect your legal rights, we at FLB are here to help. If you have any questions, please contact us using the form below, or give us a call at 610-797-9000.

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