New York Construction – What Remains Essential?

While the coronavirus epidemic began with hopes to return to normal operations at the start of April, the deadline continues to be pushed back as the reality of its spread throughout the US became more and more apparent. The state of New York has reported 123,000 cases and 4,259 deaths as of this writing, according to Worldometers. At the tail-end of March, Governor Andrew Cuomo added to his PAUSE program by issuing an order that all non-essential construction labor come to an immediate halt, with violators potentially liable to up to $10,000 in fines. 

What Counts as Essential Construction?

The new order would suspend most commercial and residential construction, with a few noted exceptions. This has left many firms and laborers wondering what projects will remain open, as this is likely to shape the face of the New York construction scene for some time to come. Essential projects would include any of the following: 

  • Infrastructure projects including roads and bridges, utilities, and transit systems like the subways.
  • Affordable housing and homeless shelter projects are permitted to continue. 
  • Emergency sites, such as hospitals, clinics, or other healthcare facilities in development can continue. 
  • Construction projects that would typically be deemed non-essential but count as emergencies, ie, to halt construction and leave it unfinished would be unsafe in its current state. Work may continue until it is safe to shut down the site.

Sites that are not equipped to maintain health and social distancing guidelines, even when they meet the criteria of an essential project, must also close. The government mandate also specifies that single workers, or people who are the “sole employee/worker on a job site” do not fall under construction work under these rules. There is no official confirmation that this means they are banned, but if it is not deemed construction work, then it can’t be deemed essential construction work. 

Major Projects in New York City Still Underway, Plus New Developments

Those curious about what ongoing projects remain essential can consult a map provided by the state’s Department of Buildings. Presently, over 1,000 essential projects are still running and can be navigated on the map by project type and location. 

Most notable are new developments underway, approved to help extend healthcare to New York’s most vulnerable at this time. Multiple temporary hospitals are in the works throughout the state, including the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal on Staten Island. It will add 750 hospital beds to care for patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus. Additional locations are coming together to handle non-COVID-19 affected patients in order to handle overflow, creating more space within hospitals to house the infected. 

Construction in New York City – Moving Forward

With only essential projects remaining open, construction work is taking a sharp turn away from largely residential and commercial projects for the time being. Laborers on open sites are still expected to social distance, and observe all precautions regarding cleanliness and personal health. 

New York Shuts Down Non-Essential Construction

Today governor Andrew Cuomo will order the closure non-essential construction sites around the state, as of Friday April 3. The new order will mean most work at residential and commercial buildings will not continue. Public works, transportation, and infrastructure projects will be exempt, along with construction involving hospitals and medical facilities and work on affordable housing.
All non-essential work must be shut down by Friday April 3 and sites will be closed until April 21.
There had been growing concern for the safety of workers in the pandemic. The Building Trades Employers Association (BTEA) supports the decision, the organization’s president and CEO Louis J. Colletti said in a statement.
“We have supported the governor’s efforts to keep construction sites open,” Colletti said. “However the current state of escalating COVID-19 cases confirms the Governor’s prudent action today.”

Constructions Sites to Remain Open as Delaware Begins Stay-at-Home Order

Delaware joins New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York with stay-at-home order from the governor. The restricted movement and closure of non-essential businesses began Tuesday at 8 a.m., but construction sites will remain open.
The state’s list of essential and non-essential businesses can be found here.

Construction Begins This Week on NY Temporary Hospitals

This week the Army Corps of Engineers will begin construction of temporary hospitals in New York. Supplies and materials have already arrived at Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Center, which could be completely turned into a medical facility in seven to 10 days. The convention center will have four 250-bed federal hospitals on the main showroom floor. There is also a possibility that space for 1,000 additional beds for medical staff would be needed.

Temporary hospitals will also be set up at three other locations: Westchester County Center, SUNY Stony Brook, and SUNY Old Westbury. These four locations were chosen from a longlist of possible sites because of space requirements and the ability to transform the locations quickly.

New York PAUSE Starts Sunday; Governor Makes Construction Exemptions

As of 6 p.m. Saturday

New York governor Andrew Cuomo has issued an order to close all non-essential businesses as of Sunday March 22 at 8 p.m. According to his order, exemptions include, “Construction, Including:

  • skilled trades such as electricians, plumbers
  • other related construction firms and professionals for essential infrastructure or for emergency repair and safety purposes”

Some NYC legislators are calling on the mayor to shut down any non-emergency construction, as was done in Boston.

New Jersey Shuts Down Non-Essential Businesses; Construction Can Continue

Like Pennsylvania and New York, New Jersey has now shuttered all non-essential businesses. On Saturday governor Phil Murphy made the announcement, which exempts construction from the closures.

From Governor Murphy’s official order:

Examples of employees who need to be physically present at their work site in order to perform their duties include, but are not limited to, law enforcement officers, fire fighters, and other first responders, cashiers or store clerks, construction workers, utility workers, repair workers, warehouse workers, lab researchers, information technology maintenance workers, janitorial and custodial staff, and certain administrative staff.

“UTCA has been working in concert with the Governor’s office to ensure our industry can follow health safety guidelines and keep working. In a conversation with CEO Bob Briant, Jr., the Governor clarified that construction support services are also allowed to remain open,” according to a UTCA email.

In addition to working with the governor’s office, the UTCA has been trying help with the shortage of medical supplies, asking members to donate N95 masks. As of a tweet on Friday, 280 masks had been donated.

Pennsylvania Governor Shuts Down All Non Life-Sustaining Businesses

The governor of Pennsylvania has increased the state’s response to attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus–ordering the closure of all businesses that aren’t “life-sustaining.” Philadelphia is included in this order. The order goes into effect Saturday and will be enforced, Governor Tom Wolf said.

The governor’s office posted a detailed list of businesses, stating which are allowed to continue operations and which are not. All construction is to shut down.

OSHA REVISES GUIDELINES FOR REPORTING CORONAVIRUS

After input from the Associated General Contractors of America, OSHA has revised its coronavirus reporting requirements.  According to the AGC, here are the current requirements:

OSHA recordkeeping requirements at 29 CFR Part 1904 mandate covered employers record certain work-related injuries and illnesses on their OSHA 300 log.

COVID-19 can be a recordable illness if a worker is infected as a result of performing their work-related duties. However, employers are only responsible for recording cases of COVID-19 if all of the following are met:

  1. The case is a confirmed case of COVID-19 (see CDC information on persons under investigation and presumptive positive and laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19);
  2. The case is work-related, as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5; and
  3. The case involves one or more of the general recording criteria set forth in 29 CFR 1904.7 (e.g. medical treatment beyond first-aid, days away from work).

According to OSHA standards and directives, there is nothing specific to coronavirus in its guidelines, but the following were cited as some that may be relevant to helping with the spread:

  • OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards (in general industry, 29 CFR 1910 Subpart I), which require using gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection.
  • When respirators are necessary to protect workers, employers must implement a comprehensive respiratory protection program in accordance with the Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134).

o   OSHA has issued temporary guidance related to enforcement of respirator annual fit-testing requirements for healthcare.

Bergen County To Continue With Construction, Order Rescinded

Bergen County executive Jim Tedesco is rescinding his order to halt all construction and utility work and shutdown of most retail activity in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The order, which was to go into effect on Saturday morning, is being rescinded at the request of NJ governor Phil Murphy, according to Tedesco. The Association Construction Contractors of New Jersey opposed the original order and were pursuing legal options.

Senate Approves Relief Package to Include Paid Sick Leave to Workers

Late this afternoon the Senate passed the bill sent from the House with overwhelming support 90 – 8.  Read more about this and the status of the promised stimulus package on The Washington Post

To help you understand exactly what this bill will mean to workers and employers of all sizes, take a look at this straightforward article in Business Insider