Job sites now require COVID safety officers

Oak Bluffs and Edgartown are first to set new protocols aimed at slowing community spread of COVID-19.

A Zoom-bomber briefly disrupted the meeting as health agent Matt Poole was describing new protocols.

Updated 11:15 am

Early Tuesday morning, the Oak Bluffs board of health approved the phase three COVID-19 guidelines for work sites, and a highway department official said he will suspend employees who don’t wear masks.

The guidelines include mandatory mask wearing regardless of social distancing, notifying the board of health of a positive case within 12 hours of a positive test result, stocking hand sanitizer stations, and naming a required COVID-19 safety officer for each work site.

Inspections of work sites prior to work are no longer required. Instead, the towns will conduct random inspections to ensure work sites are in compliance throughout their projects, and not only before work begins.

“I think we have a very short leash on this. A lot of messaging has been done, and this has been in place for months. We’re going to inspect, you’re going to get one warning, and then we’re most likely going to be pursuing fines after that, and chronic violators will have their job sites shut down,” health agent Meegan Lancaster said.

The Oak Bluffs highway department is also cracking down on employees who do not follow mask-wearing protocols, and will begin suspending employees without pay for multiple infractions.

Over the past several weeks, Oak Bluffs highway department employees have made multiple infractions for not wearing masks, according to Lancaster, who on her way to the Tuesday Zoom meeting drove by a highway department vehicle with one employee not wearing a mask.

Highway superintendent Richard Combra said he was shocked by the infraction Lancaster described, because he spoke to his employees Tuesday morning about wearing masks.

Combra said he has been out of work for the past two weeks to quarantine, after he tested positive for COVID-19 and had mild symptoms.

“I’m at my wit’s end, to be honest with you. I don’t understand what is going on … but I will start suspending guys for a day without pay,” Combra said. “I just don’t know what else I can do.”

In a joint session with the board of health Monday, Edgartown selectmen unanimously endorsed new pandemic safety guidelines for contractors, similar to the Oak Bluffs guidelines. The endorsement followed a 2-0 vote by the board of health to adopt the new guidelines. Edgartown Health Agent Matt Poole said the guidelines amplify and clarify earlier guidelines.

“The current requirements call for a contractor or a service provider or someone working in construction trade to notify the board of health within 12 hours of learning of an infection at your site,” Poole said. “That will be hugely helpful going forward in getting contact tracing underway. It is something that did not happen the last two or three weeks that in hindsight would have been very helpful.”

Poole also said giving notice if someone is “exhibiting symptoms” is also requisite.

The guidelines call for establishing a COVID-19 safety officer at job sites and on work crews with five or more people. 

“That doesn’t have to be any specially credentialed person,” he said. “Just one person onsite that an inspector can interact with on that site, and [who] is aware of all the COVID requirements that are being implemented and can speak for the job in its entirety.” 

Poole said work vehicles would be considered “an extension of the workplace,” and as such, masks will be mandatory for any number above one vehicle occupant. Poole described vehicles as “probably the most dangerous environment that people work in on a regular basis when there’s more than one occupant.”

While Poole was addressing the joint Zoom session, somebody masquerading as Town Administrator James Hagerty riddled the set of guidelines displayed for the meeting with red ink. The real James Hagerty quickly ousted the Zoom bomber and their handiwork. 

Both Tisbury and Chilmark have scheduled meetings for Wednesday. Oak Bluffs selectmen were meeting Tuesday as The Times went to press.

Updated to include details from Oak Bluffs.