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What You Need to Know: Clarification of the Mass.Gov Essential Services Order

Contributed by John Ferrante, BTEA Associate Director & Tom Gunning, BTEA Director of Labor Relations

We are in unprecedented times and there’s a lot of confusion with regards to COVID-19 and essential/non-essential businesses, particularly in the construction industry. On Monday, March 23rd, Gov. Baker issued an emergency advisory requiring all employers that do not provide “COVID-19 Essential Services” to close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers, and the public from Tuesday, March 24th at noon to Tuesday, April 7th at noon.

  • Exempt industries include: healthcare, public safety, groceries and take-out restaurants, utilities and infrastructure, and other essential services. 

The Order also limits gatherings to 10 people during the state of emergency, a reduction from the 25-person limit established in an earlier order.

  • The Order directs the Department of Public Health to issue guidance to implement the terms of the Order.
  •  In the Department of Public Health’s Guidance, #4 states: “The Order does not apply to the operations or activities of any business or organization in its provision of “COVID-19 Essential Services” as those are defined in the Order and Exhibit A to the Order.”
  • The Baker Administration has issued a list titled COVID-19 Essential Services Exhibit A for those designated businesses and other organizations that provide essential services and workforces related to COVID-19 that shall continue to operate during this two-week time period. 
Construction is listed as an essential service at this point in time. Therefore, construction may continue in the state of MA. With that said, cities and towns have the authority under their public health powers to make their own decisions within their jurisdictions. The Mayors of Boston and Cambridge have already issued “Temporary Emergency Stop Work Orders”, pausing construction in these cities for the time being.

There are a few exceptions. As we mentioned last week, skeleton crews are permitted on projects in Boston after Monday, March 23rd.  
Emergency work is permitted but will need approval from the Boston Inspectional Services Department (ISD)

That work includes:
 
  • work at public health facilities, healthcare facilities, shelters, including temporary shelters and other facilities that support vulnerable populations
  • mandated building or utility work
  • emergency utility, road or building work, such as gas leaks, water leaks and sinkholes
  • new utility connections to occupied buildings
  • work which ensures the reliability of the transportation network, and
  • other work necessary to render occupied residential buildings fully habitable.
  • Requests for exceptions are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis for their impact on public health and safety
    • ISD Commissioner reviews building-related work
    • Commissioner of Public Works reviews street-related work

Cambridge Temporary Emergency Moratorium

  • By close of business tomorrow, Tuesday, March 24th all sites must be secured and made safe
  • Some work is exempt from the Moratorium with contractors being asked to limit the number of workers on site to allow for social-distancing
    • Utility Connections already scheduled with a utility company
    • Construction on one, two and three family residential structures already permitted
  • Requests for exceptions are being reviewed by the Commissioner of Buildings or the Commissioner of Public Works on a case-by-case basis.
Although this information is coming in rapidly and changing daily, we have seen some hospital work and other facilities receive exemptions in the last few days. State funded school projects has deemed public school construction as essential. And even though construction has slowed, we’ve been told by members that the paperwork has not. So essential office and shop personnel are permitted, if needed for construction projects still ongoing. Hopefully this clarifies to all that nothing has really changed in the construction industry from last week. MA Construction remains open. Boston and Cambridge remain shut down for the most part.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at any time.

John Ferrante | jferrante@btea.com                           
Tom Gunning | tsg@btea.com