OLYMPIA – Washington is slowly lifting the moratorium on many construction projects as the state takes its first step toward “dialing back” its ban on many forms of work.
Gov. Jay Inslee and construction industry officials announced guidelines today that focus on safety for workers on job sites to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Some paused construction work – including residential, commercial and transportation projects – could resume almost immediately.
The new rules require the ability for workers to keep safe distances on a job site and to wear personal protective equipment, along with improved sanitation and cleanliness standards. Workers who develop COVID-19 symptoms would be sent home. The new rules would be posted on site, and a supervisor must be present on each site to make sure the plan is followed.
“We are extremely committed to all of the elements of this plan,” said Greg Lane, executive vice president of the Building Association of Washington. “We all agreed that safety was the highest priority.”
The recommendations on how to safely resume construction work came from a task force of groups representing builders and construction workers. It involved groups “that don’t usually get along,” said Mark Riker, of Building and Construction Trades Council, but they reached agreement on the plan that could restart most stalled construction projects and keep them open.
“It’s our job to do it right,” Riker said.
Asked how soon some construction work could resume, Inslee replied: “Today.”
Work sites could be shut down if the restrictions aren’t followed, Inslee said.
The construction restart is the beginning of efforts to restart the economy after orders were issued in mid-March to protect state residents from the highly contagious novel coronavirus. Those orders have pushed hundreds of thousands out of work in the state, and similar orders around the country have idled millions.
Washington had the first known case of COVID-19 at the time – recent tests in California show two deaths from the virus occurred there earlier – and also had some of the strictest restrictions. Other states allowed construction projects to continue.
As he was lifting the construction restrictions, Inslee defended the state’s stricter stance, which he said was responsible for declining numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.
“Our strategy is working and people know it is protecting people from sickness and death now, so that we don’t have to go through this crisis all over again later,” Inslee said.
He cited statistics from a newly released Elway Poll that indicates three-fourths of those polled believe the restrictions are working, and 3 of 5 are concerned about lifting them too soon.
The rules for reopening construction, which came after several weeks of discussions by industry representatives, provides a template for opening other parts of the state’s economy, he said. Announcements will be coming soon on restarting some elective medical procedures and loosening restrictions on some recreational activity, Inslee said, but he refused to give a detailed time line for restarting the economy.
“We can’t make decisions based on arbitrary dates,” he said. “We can’t state unequivocally when other businesses could be open.”
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