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How WA construction sites are restarting work amid shutdown

Construction sites are reopening in Washington this week. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

With Gov. Inslee lifting restrictions on construction projects in Washington last week, workers will begin returning to job sites Monday. As for how the state plans to safely accomplish that, there are a few hurdles contractors will have to clear.

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“The main one is can you maintain social distancing?” Seattle Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary Monty Anderson told KIRO Nights. “Can you work and only have pass-bys in the hallways, or limited time within six feet?”

“Now, if you have three guys doing a concrete pour … you could probably distance. If you have four people in a room doing drywall, probably not,” he added.

As contractors work to meet requisite safety precautions, there are still issues regarding how the state will be able to ensure that each job site is following these new rules.

Normally, that responsibility would fall to the state’s Department of Labor and Industries. But with thousands of construction workers returning to the job, it’s not exactly feasible to expect L&I to do the job of enforcement on its own.

“We all know they’re overwhelmed,” said Anderson. “There’s no way that we’re going to have possibly 15,000 construction workers go back to work to the next 10 days in King County and have those jobs to be inspected.”

The hope is that local governments and construction companies will help shoulder that load, “so they can corral and police their own projects.”

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“We’re asking end users — the people who own these projects — to step up with enforcement,” Anderson noted.

While meeting social distancing and safety requirements laid out by the state may seem difficult, it’s also not something entirely new to the construction industry.

As Anderson points out, not all job sites have been gathering cobwebs during Washington’s stay-at-home order.

“We know what works — a lot of people are still working; they never missed a beat,” Anderson detailed. “It’s just giving everybody else that’s jumping back into it, the people that have been sitting at home maybe watching the news, they need to get in the reality zone, which is work, and focus on what we’re doing here in Washington state.”

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