Pennsylvania Construction Is Allowed to Reopen on May 1. What Do Business Owners Need to Know?

April 30, 2020
Aaron S. Marines

Beginning on May 1, 2020, Pennsylvania will allow businesses that are involved in construction to open. These construction businesses must follow state guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Reopening construction will allow some workers to return to their jobs and some people to move into their new homes.  

However, just because Pennsylvania construction is allowed to reopen, it DOES NOT mean that construction businesses can just show up at a job site and start back to work.  Construction businesses will need to plan and schedule their work to comply with state and federal guidelines.  

Who is Permitted to Reopen?

The Governor’s order applies to: 

all businesses in the construction industry in the Commonwealth, including those in new construction, renovation, and repair, as well as land subdivision and design-related field activities.

This designation includes 

  • residential construction and remodeling 
  • commercial and industrial construction, and
  • municipal projects. 

Municipal inspectors should also be back to work, as the order also includes

in-person inspection and appraisals related to construction financing loans, and UCC building code plan review and inspection services…

Hopefully, this means that building permits and certificates of occupancy will resume.

What Restrictions Need to Be in Place?

All construction businesses will need to follow specific safety procedures. These include:

  • Requiring every person at a worksite to wear a face mask
  • Maintaining 6-foot social distancing unless the specific task requires reducing the distance. The state’s guidance gives examples like drywalling or team lifting.
  • Providing handwashing stations at the worksite
  • Implementing cleaning and sanitizing procedures
  • Prohibiting meetings of 10 or more people
  • Reducing the sharing tools and equipment
  • Staggering breaks and lunches
  • Prohibiting employees from driving to work sites together where possible
  • Implementing processes to make sure workers who are sick stay home
  • Identifying a “Pandemic Safety Officer” for each work site.  

Residential Construction

Residential construction, in particular, has additional requirements. These projects may not allow more than four people at the worksite at any one time.  

This restriction does not apply to persons performing material deliveries or inspections or to anyone else who needs temporary access to the job site.

Commercial Construction

For commercial construction, this four-person limit applies to any enclosed project that is 2,000 square feet and under. Builders may have one extra person on-site for every additional 500 square feet. These limits also apply to all employees of contractors and subcontractors.  That means that a project cannot have four plumbers, four electricians, four drywallers, etc., all working on top of each other.

**UPDATE 5/4/20** The four-person per 2,000 square foot limit applies only to people working on the inside of a building. It does not count people working outside. People working outside only have to keep social distancing protocols, and there is no numerical limit on them.

The state is also encouraging large work projects to have a Work Safety Plan. PennDOT has provided a good outline for restarting construction projects here

Municipal Construction

In addition, the state is encouraging municipalities and local political units to postpone non-essential projects. Pennsylvania will not allow any contractor to resume a municipal project until the municipality authorizes starting. 

Municipalities can also add additional requirements to social distancing and safety measures.  

Are There Any Unanswered Questions?

Component Manufacturers

The order does not exactly say that Pennsylvania is permitting component manufacturers – like cabinet companies – to reopen. However, it seems like everyone is including manufacturers in the reopening. I suppose that this also includes people who install security systems or IT equipment.  

If you have questions about whether your business is permitted to reopen, you should start by checking your NAICS codes. The list of businesses PA is allowing to reopen includes specific NAICS codes. 

Municipality-Specific Issues

While the order allows building inspections and plan reviews to continue, it does not require any municipality to perform these tasks in person. Plus, a municipality or inspector may have additional procedures or scheduling issues.  

As one example, maybe municipal offices need to stagger work times to keep to social distancing guidelines. Just like construction projects, municipal reviews might not be back to normal.

Everyone should understand the requirements and limitations of getting back to work during this period.  If you have questions about how COVID-19 may affect your construction contracts, read more here

Aaron Marines is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including BusinessCommercial Real EstateLand Use, Land Planning and Zoning matters.