Washington COVID-19 Reopening: All Construction Work May Fully Resume In Seattle and Other Parts of Washington

On Friday June 5, 2020, Washington State health officials approved King County’s proposed advancement to a modified Phase 1 status (so-called “Phase 1.5”) effective immediately.  This status change means that “All construction, including those activities for which social distancing may not be maintained and the start of new construction projects, is authorized to resume” within Seattle and the rest of King County.[1]

Under Washington’s current county-by-county Safe Start Plan, counties individually apply for advancement from Phase 1 (the most restrictive) to Phase 4 (the least restrictive) based on whether the county meets certain data-driven public health metrics related to the risk posed by COVID-19.[2]  Under the four-phase Safe Start Plan structure, construction activities are not able to resume fully until Phase 2.  But King County’s special proposal asked that it be approved to resume all construction activity despite not being able to meet all the metrics to advance to Phase 2.

In addition to King County, several other counties also received approval from the State on Friday to advance within the Safe Start Plan framework.  Pierce, Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Okanogan, and Clark counties were approved to move to Phase 2, allowing all construction activities to resume fully and new projects to start.[3]  With these changes, effective immediately, job sites and projects around Puget Sound can resume, but that does not mean things are back to business as usual.

State issued guidance states that even when counties are approved to resume all construction, job sites are still required to take safety precautions and have a formal plan in place to address the risk posed by coronavirus:

Prior to commencing work all contractors are required to develop for each job site a comprehensive COVID-19 exposure control, mitigation, and recovery plan. The plan must include policies regarding the following control measures: PPE utilization; on-site social distancing; hygiene; sanitation; symptom monitoring; incident reporting; site decontamination procedures; COVID-19 safety training; exposure response procedures; and a post-exposure incident project wide recovery plan. The plan must also include a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA), including a list of engineering controls and proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), for all jobsite activities defined by Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) as medium and high transmission risk.[4]

Editor’s Comment: Even though construction activities may resume despite inability to maintain social distancing, job sites and workers are still required to take steps to avoid the spread of coronavirus.  Formal safety protocols must be written and utilized and the safety guidelines issued by the Department of Labor and Industries/Department of Occupational Safety and Health (https://www.acslawyers.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/DD170.pdf) have not been rescinded.  Employers who fail to take sufficient safety measures to provide a safe workspace could face penalties under RCW 49.17.070 and open themselves up to other potential liability.  Further, if counties experience any increase in infection rates or other changes in metrics indicating a county is less able to respond to an outbreak, the Secretary of Health has authority to move the county back to a more restrictive phase.  It therefore remains critical for contractors to take all efforts to avoid the spread of disease.


[1] See King County press release: https://www.kingcounty.gov/elected/executive/constantine/news/release/2020/June/05-phase-covid.aspx

[2] More info on the Safe Start Plan guidelines can be found here:  https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/SafeStartWA_4May20_1pm.pdf

[3] The only counties still in Phase 1 are: Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin, and Yakima. For more info on county changes see this press release: https://coronavirus.wa.gov/news/14-counties-approved-move-next-phase-gov-jay-inslees-safe-start-plan

[4] The full text of the Phase 2 Construction Industry Job Site Requirements can be viewed here:  https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/COVID19Phase2ConstructionSafetyGuidance.pdf

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