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COVID-19: Why Construction Workers Are At-Risk

Civil engineer and safety officer inspection construction worker teamwork election steel truss in construction site
Civil engineer and safety officer inspection construction worker teamwork election steel truss in construction site

Thousands of construction companies across the five boroughs are still trying to figure out how to return to work in a post-pandemic New York City. Unfortunately, some worksites are doing a better job than others at adjusting to the new norm.

At the beginning of July, New York City’s Department of Buildings (D.O.B.) reported issuing multiple violations within the first five days of active enforcement of COVID- 19 safety protocols. According to the D.O.B’s initial report, 88 worksites received citations for health violations and 41 were issued stop-work orders until safety and prevention measures were improved.

Employers and contractors have a responsibility to use the resources available through state and government entities as guidance to protecting workers from novel coronavirus on the job. In this blog, we aim to provide workers with the information they need to recognize the most common COVID-19 risks in the construction industry and the steps employers should be taking in response to prevent injuries.

Four Levels of COVID-19 Risk for Construction

There are hundreds of different jobs associated with the construction industry, all with unique risk factors pertaining to COVID-19 exposure. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (O.S.H.A.), there are four levels of risk contraction tasks can be classified under when it comes to exposure to coronavirus:

  • Low Risk: Tasks that allow employees to remain at least 6 feet apart and involve little contact with the public, visitors, or customers.
  • Medium Risk: Tasks that require workers to be within 6 feet of one another or tasks that require workers to be in close contact (within 6 feet) with customers, visitors, or members of the public.
  • High Risk: Entering an indoor worksite occupied by people such as other workers, customers, or residents suspected of having or known to have COVID-19, including when an occupant of the site reports signs and symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
  • Very High: Category not applicable for most anticipated work tasks but can apply in situations where workers are completing emergency projects in medical buildings that are treating patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

It’s critical for employers to identify the exposure level of each task expected of their workers to adequately determine which safety measures will reduce their chances of contracting COVID-19. New York State provides additional guidance for creating reopening safety regulations for companies who need assistance, including mandatory and recommended best practices for safety guidelines pertaining to:

  • Physical Distancing;
  • Protective Equipment;
  • Cleaning and Hygiene;
  • Communication; and
  • Screenings.

Factors That Put Construction Workers at Risk

There are certain aspects of the construction industry that put workers at more risk of contracting COVID-19 than other occupations. It’s essential that employers and contractors be aware of these unique risks to become more vigilant and prepared to protect workers on the job.

Close Contact

Unlike some industries where employees can work on a task together remotely, construction workers are highly dependent on their coworkers to meet the job’s physical demands. It is challenging to remain six feet apart from someone when they are helping to lift, stabilize, or spot another worker in need, or to remain a safe distance on a lift with several others along for the ride.

To reduce employee exposure during tasks requiring close contact, employers should focus on providing adequate protective equipment to establish a barrier from airborne droplets. Not all face coverings are as effective or safe for construction workers to use during high-risk jobs. To find out which mask best fits a workers’ need, O.S.H.A. provider several resources that compare masks, respirators, and other face coverings that are appropriate for the industry.

Community Exposure

Many worksites are located directly in the heart of NYC, where thousands of people may walk by on any given day. Maintaining a sterile worksite can be difficult when you are forced to battle the outside factor of the general public, particularly when some residents are not as concerned as others.

Employers should be taking specific precautions on the worksite, as outlined in New York State’s reopening plan, to limit the number of non-essential workers that are physically present on the property. Barriers that direct pedestrian traffic away from the site can reduce the amount of unknown exposure to employees. Venders, sub-contractors, customers, and family members of workers allowed onsite should also be limited.

Working in Heat

Thousands of workers in NYC spend the entirety of their workday outdoors. In the summer months, heat advisories similar to those issued for NYC in the past few weeks can make working conditions unbearable. Extreme temperatures places workers at an increased risk for heat illnesses under normal summer working conditions. But wearing face protection on top of the typical protective equipment on the job could pose an elevated risk without taking precautions.

Employers should be extra cautious during periods of extreme heat to ensure workers are taking the cool-down and water breaks they need to stay safe throughout their shift. Work schedules can also be adjusted to accommodate the heat, allowing workers to perform more physically demanding jobs in the morning and evening hours when temperatures are cooler.

Previous Exposure to Hazards

Construction workers who have been in the industry for a long time may already have had long-term exposure to harmful chemicals and debris. This puts workers at a higher risk for developing severe symptoms of COVID-19, and ongoing respiratory issues if an outbreak on the worksite occurs.

Employers can protect at-risk workers by ensuring they are taking all required steps for reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 on the job. For more information on how to protect workers, New York State provides a helpful reopening tool for businesses that need additional guidance on creating safety protocols and restrictions.

New York City Construction Accident Attorneys

It is more important than ever before to prioritize the health and safety of NYC workers. Deadlines and project revenue do not take precedence over the value of human life. Neglecting to require or implement safety measures to protect construction workers and tradesmen from accidents or exposure to coronavirus is purely reckless and can have large scale consequences if a localized outbreak occurs.

At the law firm of Pazer Epstein Jaffe Fein & Gozenput, P.C., we have been fighting for New York City workers and victims of construction accidents for over 60 years. If you or a loved one has sustained a serious construction injury or become ill due to a lack of safety precautions at your workplace, our knowledgeable accident attorneys are here to help.

Contact us using our convenient online form or feel free to phone us in New York at 212-227-1212, or in Huntington/Long Island at 631-864-2429.


Bousquin, Joe. “NYC construction inspectors issue 41 coronavirus-related stop work orders.” Construction Dive. (Retrieved August 11, 2020) https://www.constructiondive.com/news/nyc-construction-inspectors-issue-41-coronavirus-related-stop-work-orders/581678/?fbclid=IwAR2_6vtZdFv8AR3ixRCHwvNmJtzNou2BlFWgl8vE-bd8kR5HbHagqFoxyoQ

“Reopening New York.” New York State.(Retrieved August 11, 2020) https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/ConstructionShortGuidelines. pdf

“COVID-19.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (Retrieved August 11, 2020) https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/covid-19-faq

Troutman, Matt. “NYC Under Heat Advisory Until Wednesday.” Patch. (Retrieved August 11, 2020) https://patch.com/new-york/new-york-city/nyc-under-heat-advisory-until-wednesday

“New York Forward Business Reopening Lookup Wizard.” New York State. (Retrieved August 11, 2020)https://www.businessexpress.ny.gov/app/nyforward

“People Who Are at Increased Risk for Severe Illness.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (Retrieved August 11, 2020)https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-at-increased-risk.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fneed-extra-precautions%2Fpeople-at-higher-risk.html

“Construction Work.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (Retrieved August 11, 2020)https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/construction.html

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