A crane hovered over Hollywood Boulevard this afternoon, hoisting bundles of plywood off of a flatbed truck that were strapped in by workers, some standing by side by side.
To prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, construction is largely restricted in major cities such as New York and San Francisco. But in Los Angeles, it’s humming along on everything from mid-sized apartment complexes in Hollywood to the Frank Gehry-designed shopping complex on Bunker Hill to the $5 billion NFL stadium in Inglewood, where at least one worker has tested positive for COVID-19.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said this week that he’s willing to shut down construction sites that are not taking new safety precautions—which include maintaining at least six-feet from others—seriously.
“We will not be shy about shutting down construction sites that do not comply, so comply,” he said.
Under new rules the mayor announced Tuesday night, construction companies working in LA are required to create “comprehensive COVID-19 exposure control plans.” Those plans must incorporate roughly a dozen safety guidelines developed by the city’s department of building and safety.
The guidelines call on employers to provide personal protective equipment, such as gloves and face masks, “as appropriate” for certain jobs; to install hand-washing stations throughout work areas; and to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, including shared tools and handrails.
The requirements are a direct response to some construction sites not taking proper safety precautions, the mayor said.
“Critical infrastructure projects like homeless shelters and housing should move forward,” Garcetti said. “But never at the expense of our workers’ health, never at the risk of anyone’s life.”
On Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported that a construction worker at the SoFi Stadium construction site in Inglewood had tested positive for COVID-19 and another was “presumed positive.” In January, when the stadium’s owners announced the project was 85 percent complete, there were roughly 3,200 workers on site every day.
Workers told the Times that they were glad to have a good-paying job at a time when many are unemployed, but they also said they were worried greatly about being on a crowded job site.
Construction companies say compliance with the new guidelines won’t be an issue, because they’ve already put many of them in place.
Ninety-five percent of the city’s guidelines were already in place at R.D Olson job sites, says company president Bill Wilhelm. But he does note that it’s important to keep reminding workers of the rules.
“It’s not because they have a disregard for safety, but because a lot of us take a lot of things for granted,” like being able to share tools, Wilhelm says.
In his announcement, Garcetti said sites would be checked daily for compliance. Asked how many active construction sites there are right now in the city of Los Angeles, the department of building and safety would not immediately provide a number. But tonight, the mayor said building and safety officials visited 1,912 construction sites on Wednesday.
In the 2018 fiscal year, the city issued nearly 178,000 building permits. According to the mayor’s website, that translates to $7.7 billion worth of construction projects.
Other cities in LA are also threatening to come down hard on those that aren’t taking the health of their workers seriously.
The city of Santa Monica beefed up its previously stated requirements for construction sites Wednesday, reminding workers and construction companies that not following rules about hygiene and social distancing measures could result in their construction site being shut down by the city’s building and safety division, which will have the authority to stop projects that are not following the rules.
Santa Monica officials also asked the public to file complaints if they observed construction sites not following the rules.
“We need all construction sites in Santa Monica to be good neighbors and to take all required steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said city manager Rick Cole.
Taking precautions will cause work to happen more slowly, says Steve Pellegren, an executive vice president at Bernards, a construction management company and builder.
Staggered start times, uni-directional stairwells, and social distancing are among the precautions that Bernards is taking on its projects, which includes the Martin Luther King Jr. Behavioral Center in Willowbrook.
“It certainly adds more time,” Pellegren says. “People are more careful, more thoughtful about how they move,” but he says it’s worth it if it means that construction can continue at all.
Wilhelm agrees. “It’s a very fair trade off, if we have to deliver [a project] a little bit late to make sure we can be safe and still keep people working,” he says.