Residential work sites across Austin to pause work April 16 to review coronavirus safety protocols

Construction continues on a site at The Domain in North Austin in winter 2019. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Construction continues on a site at The Domain in North Austin in winter 2019. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

Construction continues on a site at The Domain in North Austin in winter 2019. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

After tens of thousands of construction workers in Austin were permitted by the state to return to work in early April, city staff issued guidelines on how to maintain workplace safety in the face of the coronavirus.

Now, a nationwide effort led by a homebuilders group seeks to briefly pause work sites and use the time to educate developers and workers on coronavirus safety education.

“We are urging members, and all residential construction companies, to halt work for at least 10 minutes for a COVID-19 Job Site Safety Stand Down to educate workers on what they should do to keep themselves safe from coronavirus and to help ‘flatten the curve’ for everyone,” the National Association of Home Builders wrote in an April 9 news release.

Safety requirements for work sites in the city of Austin were updated on April 13 following the joint Austin-Travis County stay-in-home order.

According to materials distributed by the Austin Development Services Department, the new order mandates that each worker wear personal protective equipment while on-site. Further, site managers are required to provide daily COVID-19 safety updates while restating coronavirus safety regulations.

Ahead of the stand-down event, the NAHB prepared materials in English and Spanish for participating work sites to present and distribute during the pause in work. The materials give an overview on what coronavirus is and how the virus is spread. These materials are available in both English and Spanish.

The stand-down documents compiled by the NAHB further outline worker responsibilities while on-site and run down all safety practices that should be implemented on residential construction sites across the nation, including regularly disinfecting shared spaces and tools.

"While safety is always a priority in the construction industry, additional safety measures and precautions are in place to protect workers, their families and our community at large from COVID-19. The NAHB Stand Down for Safety provides a platform to further educate the public on how the industry takes safety seriously," said Carrie Ciliberto, CEO of the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin in an email to Community Impact Newspaper.

Residential construction was initially deemed nonessential work in the city of Austin following Mayor Steve Adler’s March 24 stay-in-home order. That decision was ultimately overruled by Gov. Greg Abbott’s March 31 executive order that allowed all construction work across the state to resume.

Less than a week after Abbott’s executive order went into effect, a team of researchers at The University of Texas at Austin published a report projecting the spread of the coronavirus among the city’s construction worker population.

The April 5 report projects in a scenario where effective social distancing in the general public is achieved while a large construction workforce is still working, the hospitalization risk due to complications from the coronavirus is expected to be disproportionately higher for construction workers than non-construction workers.

“Assuming that the Stay Home-Work Safe order is highly effective, allowing all construction work to proceed would disproportionately increase risk among construction workers. Allowing all construction work to proceed would lead to an estimated eight-fold increase in the number of construction workers that are hospitalized for COVID-19 by mid-August,” the UT report states.

“Measures to reduce risk of transmission at job sites could mitigate but not eliminate this risk.”

According to recent data from the Texas Workforce Commission and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 71,600 people working in the construction and mining industry in the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan statistical area in February.

In a projection where stay-in-home orders are moderately effective, the research team at UT Austin still found that allowing all construction work to continue in the city will “increase the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Austin-Round Rock Area by at least 10,000 by mid-August,” according to the report.
By Iain Oldman
Iain Oldman joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after spending two years in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he covered Pittsburgh City Council. His byline has appeared in PublicSource, WESA-FM and Scranton-Times Tribune. Iain worked as the reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition and is now working as the editor for the Northwest Austin edition.


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