Nevada OSHA offers new guidance on six-foot social distancing for construction sites, lunch breaks

COVID-19 sign posted near the construction entrance at Allegiant Stadium on Thursday, April 9, 2020.

COVID-19 sign posted near the construction entrance at Allegiant Stadium on Thursday, April 9, 2020.

Nevada workplace safety regulators on Friday, April 17, an updated memo to the construction industry that creates an exception to social distancing rules for tasks where it is “infeasible” or “impractical.” 

The memo additionally advised employers to enforce social distancing rules for work breaks, requiring employers to terminate employees after three violations.

That provision was relaxed in a revised version of the memo, released Monday, April 20, to give contractors more discretion.

The new memo comes after the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a March 26 memo warning construction industry leaders that it had observed several work sites “visibly” not following social distancing requirements. Since then, state regulators have enforced a strict social distancing policy in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus at work sites.

The policy made it difficult for contractors to complete certain tasks — setting a window panel, for instance — even if workers wore personal protective equipment (PPE). OSHA has continued to survey construction sites and cite contractors for violations of strict social distancing rules.

Since March 26, the regulatory agency has issued at least 84 citations for violating COVID-19 rules, according to data reported by The Nevada Independent. In an interview last week, Jess Lankford, chief administrative officer for Nevada OSHA, said it would cite every contractor for a social distancing violation.

According to logs obtained through a records request, observations ranged from two employees in a manlift to two employees measuring distances close together.

But the citations, which are added to safety records and can reach nearly $13,500, frustrated contractors, who have pushed the state to loosen the guidelines so they allowed certain tasks to be completed if workers wore proper PPE, as the federal OSHA guidelines allow.

In the updated memo, the state amended its policy to allow for limited exceptions to the social distancing rules released on March 26.

The letter dated April 17 outlines measures that must be taken when “employees are conducting specific job functions where [six] feet of social distancing is infeasible/impracticable.”

In such cases, the letter says contractors must conduct a Job Hazard Analysis for each task, per federal OSHA guidelines, that identifies the task, hazards and what mitigation measures, such as PPE, will be used. The memo says measures should “be as effective or more effective as the [six] feet social distancing mandate.” The memo also requires training for those measures.

The memo distributed on Friday outlined stringent social distancing rules for work breaks, including lunch and dinner. It said that employees are required to observe whether employees are following social distancing guidelines during breaks and down time, including in “parking lots, staging areas, and any other location identified by the employer to be a supportive part of the overall project.”

If “an employer representative” witnessed a violation, the employer must issue a verbal warning, the April 17 letter said. After a second violation, the employee would face a two-day suspension. A third violation, the letter said, would lead to “a mandatory termination” of the employee.

Over the weekend, that provision was relaxed. A revised letter on Monday said violations will subject the employee “to the employer's existing methods established for ensuring compliance with safety rules and work practices per NAC 618.540(1)(e).”

In the memo, OSHA said it would continue to conduct “random onsite inspections” to ensure compliance with the guidelines. Violations, it said, could result in fines or work site closures.

“Failing to comply with the Governor's Declaration of Emergency Directive 003 and associated, promulgated regulations, or guidance will be considered non‐compliance with these mandates and may result in the penalizing or closure of any construction site or project that falls under the scope of the Governor's Emergency Declaration,” Lankford wrote in the letter. 


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