Construction Should Remain Open. Here’s How:

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

If there’s a real-time lesson we can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic and response, it’s that one-size-fits-all approaches don’t work.

It would be either arrogant or political opportunism to attack leaders who are making decisions on the fly aimed at protecting people against a once-in-a-lifetime viral outbreak. I believe our president and country’s governors are doing the best they can to save lives while trying to avoid a recession that will affect millions for years to come.

This can’t be an easy tightrope to walk. That’s why I commend Governor Murphy’s balancing act in seeing New Jersey through our current situation. Credit has to be given where it is due. The governor has faced the media every day, has consistently implemented new strategies and has made many hard-but-fair decisions through executive orders.

Although I agree with many of the social distancing guidelines he’s put in place, lockdowns aren’t a zero-sum game. Not every lockdown leads to a loss in economics balanced out by an equal win for the health of citizens.

That brings me to one of the governor’s more recent lockdowns - putting an end to most private construction. I would never criticize Governor Murphy on doing what he thinks will save lives, but as legislators, we must speak out when we feel one of these lockdowns could have a very minimal or flat positive impact compared to its great negative impact.

A construction site isn’t a restaurant where new people are coming in and out of every day. It’s not a warehouse where hundreds of people work in close quarters. It is not even a regular small office, which would most likely lack the type of PPE needed to be at work in the vicinity of other people. Construction generally involves the same bubble of people working mostly outdoors, making social distancing possible in most circumstances.

We’ve spent years regulating the construction industry in New Jersey to protect workers from various airborne substances that could cause damage to them. OSHA and other workplace regulations in place have led to the existence of PPE at construction sites before PPE was a nationally known term.

As a country and a state, we have fought this pandemic from home. It has been a necessary retreat based on science and the adherence to medical professionals, but at some point we must advance forward and fight the pandemic head on. Now is not the time to return to normal, but I believe controlled fields like construction are the appropriate places where an offensive strategy can be implemented.

With that being said, here are some suggestions on how to keep construction open in a safe and responsible way.

  • Temperature checks: All workers must adhere to temperature checks before starting their days. Anything above 99 degrees and that worker is sent home. This is something many countries that are reopening are doing.

  • Mandatory PPE: all workers must wear masks and gloves throughout their shift - something most all construction sites already implement.

  • Mandatory social distancing: a construction site must change its worker schedules to follow social distancing rules. If a job can’t get done under social distancing guidelines, then it should be shut down.

  • No congregating during lunch breaks. Workers must eat alone.

Construction is a giant locomotive. Once it slows too much, it is notoriously difficult to get it back and moving in the right direction. I believe these steps are a clear way to keep the train moving in a safe manner that is currently unique to only certain industries.

The game plan is that every non-essential activity should be shut down. But paying the bills is essential. Large engines of the economy are essential. We must only place lockdowns on industries where the lockdown will have an effect on saving lives. If we can develop offensive strategies to save lives and keep things chugging along, we shouldn’t shy away from it because it goes against the current headwinds of the news media.

Construction is uniquely suited for an offensive strategy.