By Jim Morelli
May 28, 2020
Could construction sites set us back on COVID-19?
No masks, no distancing formula for second wave
NATICK, Mass. — It could have been any steamy, late-spring road project. Heavy equipment, half-a-dozen workers milling about a hole on South Main Street in Natick and a couple of police officers directing a slow-moving line of traffic.
Only this is the spring of COVID-19. And the worksite should have looked much different.
The state’s Phase 1 Reopening Plan requires construction workers to maintain six feet of distance — and if that’s not possible to wear protective equipment, such as masks. It also requires the wearing of gloves — a regulation few seemed to be following on worksites observed in Walpole, Natick and Holliston.
“I’m getting reports from around the state where workers are either not complying with protocols or their employers are not providing them with proper protective equipment,” said Frank Callahan, president of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, which represents union construction workers.
“I heard a report today of a project where the non-union workforce was not wearing masks. Multiple people were being dropped off in vans to the point where the union workforce was prepared to walk off the job site.”
State regulations call for a ‘COVID-19 Safety Officer’ at each job site, but ultimately, enforcement is left up to cities and towns — in particular departments of health.
Jim White, Natick’s health director, told us no one is exempt from wearing a facial covering at a construction site when social distancing is not possible.
He added, “As for the police on details, they are also required to have facial covering if distancing cannot be maintained. The exception is if they are directing traffic out in the road and more than 6 feet away from any other worker or person on site. Then facial covering is not necessary.”
Callahan thinks the state regulations are in some cases vague — and in others too generous to employers.
“Their requirement for wearing masks is if working in close proximity where feasible. which is confusing to me because if you’re walking down the street you’re supposed to be wearing a mask,” he said.
“There’s too much qualifying language for employers,” he added. “It’s ‘when feasible… where possible’… they even use the word ‘please’ in one case. ‘Please comply with this.’ That’s not strong enough. This is a serious situation. This is the greatest crisis facing our country in any of our lifetimes. And it needs to be addressed in that manner.
One crew doing line work in Walpole — and not socially distancing or wearing masks — was a contractor for Eversource.
We brought it to the attention of Eversource spokesperson Reid Lamberty. “This is not up to our safety standards,” he said. “We have strict protocols in place concerning COVID-19 and we expect all of our contractors to follow them.”