A spokesperson for New York City’s Department of Buildings recently commented that in its first five days of enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols, the department issued 88 citations, which included 41 orders to stop work at construction sites. These citations come after the Department’s use of Geographic Information System technology, which integrates compliance data with mapping tools so inspectors can be sent to every one of the city’s 40,000 job sites. Meanwhile, since March 30, New York residents made 6,127 complaints about potential COVID-19 job site safety violations using a teleservice provided by the city. The following takes a brief look at New York City’s new COVID-19 safety protocols as well as how the city is monitoring these violations.
The Grace Period for Covid-19 Violations
When work at nonessential job sites resumed throughout New York City in June, the Department of Buildings instituted a new set of mandatory regulations for health and sanitation at work sites. Even though the department allowed a 30-day grace period for sites to become compliant with Covid-19 safety policies, during this time inspectors found cases of:
- Inadequate logs and record-keeping about worker intersection, which would later be used for contract tracing if someone tested positive for Covid-19
- Insufficient tracking of onsite cleaning
- Large gatherings during lunchtime or during meetings
- Small spaces that require workers to be in close contacts with others while entering or leaving sites
- Workers not following social distancing policies and too many workers riding hoists together
During this time, when inspectors found violations, they contacted supervisors with guidance about how to remedy them.
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New York’s Covid-19 Safety Protocol
There are numerous recommendation that New York City requests works follow to reduce Covid-19 exposure risks, which include:
- Physical distancing. All works must stay six feet from one another unless safety or the core function of the work being performed requires a shorter distance. Any time workers are less than six feet apart, acceptable face coverings must be worn. Tightly confined spaces must be occupied by one individual at a time if face masks are not worn. Social distancing markers showing six feet of space must be used at applicable sites. Gatherings must be held in open, well-ventilated spaces.
- Safety plans. Each business or entity declared essential under the essential requirements must develop a written safety plan addressing how the worksite will prevent the spread of COVID-19. This plan must then be retained on the premises of the businesses.
- Protective gear. Employers must provide workers with acceptable face coverings at no cost to the worker. Employers must also have an adequate supply of coverings in case a replacement is needed.
- Employers must adhere to hygiene and sanitation requirements established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health. Employers must provide hand hygiene stations for workers. Employers also must conduct routine cleaning and disinfection after every shift or more if needed.
- Employers must post signage throughout a site to remind personnel about protocol. A consistent communication plan must be created to inform employees, visitors, and customers with updated information. A continuous log regarding worker and visitor contact must be maintained by the employer. If a worker tests positive for Covid-19, employers must notify state and local health departments and facilitate tracing efforts.
- Employers must implement mandatory health screening assessments before workers begin each day. For essential visitors to the worksite, employers must inquire about whether the visitor displayed any Covid-19 symptoms in the past 14 days, tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 14 days, or had close contact with anyone suspected of having COVID-19 in the past 14 days.
- Contract tracing and disinfection. Employers must have a plan for cleaning, disinfecting, and contract tracing in case there is a positive Covid-19 case at the worksite. Employers also must have a plan for how to trace close contacts in the workplace and how they will inform close contacts that they may have been exposed to Covid-19.
How the Department of Buildings is Enforcing Covid-19 Safety Protocol
The Department of Buildings commented that actual compliance with COVID-19 safety protocol has been high and that many construction workers and other New Yorkers are taking safety measures seriously as a result of the past few months in New York. Besides inspections, the Department of Buildings spokesperson also commented that the Department has been calling in potential violations, which include things like workers not following social distancing or personal protective equipment guidelines. The spokesperson also commented that the Department of Buildings is actively receiving and responding to complaints that come in through its 311 phone line.
Fines for Covid-19 Violations
The Department of Buildings has commented that beginning July 8, the agency will begin issuing penalties rather than warnings. Each civil penalty in violation of Covid-19 policies will result in a $5,000 initial fine and $10,000 for each subsequent offense. The spokesperson for the Department of Buildings also reminded contractors that even if a New York City contractor is not actively visited by a building inspector, the city’s 8.6 million residents are remaining observant of their work practices and reporting numerous violations through the 311 line.
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Small Business Owners and Homeowners
The Department of Building also recently launched a program running from July 31 to September 2020 that allows small business owners and homeowners to obtain free inspections of their structures, which include areas like signs, decks, porches, and retaining walls without the risk of being fined or facing penalties if lack of compliance is found. The No-Penalty Business Accessory Sign Inspection Program and the No-Penalty Deck and Porch and Retaining Wall Inspection Programs are just two of the city’s most recent efforts to further limit the spread of COVID-19.
Speak with a Knowledgeable Employment Law Attorney
If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 due to an employer’s negligence, you should not hesitate to speak with a knowledgeable employment law attorney. Contact The Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe LLP today to schedule a free consultation.