Whether construction is considered to be an “essential” business and allowed to continue amidst the COVID-19 pandemic varies state by state. In the Associated General Contractors’ “Navigating the Outbreak” webinar series, panelists discussed best practices for maintaining project continuity in the event construction is allowed to continue and in the event it is suspended. Panelists agreed that project continuity should be a focal concern at this point in time for contractors.
Webinar panelists recommended employing basic leadership ideas. Show employees and clients there is a plan for forward movement on a project, that a company is taking the pandemic seriously and that companies are keeping employees safe.
Now is also a good time to make sure you’re up-keeping and maintaining your schedules, they said. Companies also should use this time to conduct financial modeling to see how a specific scenarios will affect revenue in a given year.
When construction continues
Even in circumstances where construction continues, companies likely will face several challenges.
Supply chain disruptions were among the first economic concerns associated with COVID-19 because it initially impacted China, where so many building materials originate. Panelists recommend actively communicating with supply chain contacts to understand where they are, how they intend to continue to supply materials and how companies can best support them.
One of the biggest choke points in construction in general is labor force. About 2.5 million construction workers are over the age of 55, which is a higher-risk demographic for contracting and exhibiting more serious symptoms of the coronavirus. Bearing that in mind, protecting people becomes even more essential.
Panelists offered tips for protecting people, including separating project teams, limiting who is allowed onsite and mandating telecommuting for positions that are able to do so.
Availability of non-construction personnel also affects ongoing construction, to include individuals associated with permit renewals, owner/architect availability and responsiveness, building inspectors, lodging and food for construction-related business travel and notary publics.
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Safety and sanitation protocols
Most cleaning procedures are based on CDC protocols, which, according to panelists, can be general. They recommend upgrading cleaning protocols and making them site specific. Consider concentrating cleaning in pinch points where people congregate, such as near toolboxes, and in closer quarters. It’s also important to be aware of using caustic chemicals; if appropriate PPE isn’t available to protect workers against the chemicals, consider using non-hazardous, biodegradable cleaning solvents.
The panelists explained the coronavirus thrives on living organisms – which is why it’s so attracted to humans – but that the virus actually lives on microbacteria on surfaces; the cleaning aims to eradicate the host. “If you keep the host low, you keep the virus low,” they said.
When construction shuts down
When construction shuts down, panelists say the shutdown itself isn’t the time when contractor losses happen. Rather, losses generally happen one to two years after an economic downturn because of failure to “right-size” during the event itself and willingness to accept work at very low margins. In locales where construction is shut down, some contractors might benefit from pursuing waiver requests.
Document, document, document, say panelists. Take photos and videos of jobsites and write down statuses of construction schedules and payments. Document all evidence of attempts to meet construction schedules and overcome delays, including any communication with suppliers, and document all efforts taken to mitigate damages from delays and total shutdowns.
Administratively speaking, companies should ensure their insurance coverages are current and stay in contact with the insurance carrier.
Generate a checklist for the project team that, in the event of a shutdown, details what steps need to be taken to verify and document a job status so if an event occurs that would trigger an insurance policy, they are covered. It’s also important to talk to legal counsel to see what steps they might advise taking for a specific company.
Jobsite safety and storage
Remove critical documents and valuables from jobsites and instruct delivery services to reroute or hold deliveries. Panelists also recommend safely storing and maintaining equipment and considering site security services if appropriate.
Review contracts and product data sheets for how to properly store materials. Be aware of temperature, humidity, moisture, UV-exposure and oxidation.
If using rental equipment, see if it’s possible to negotiate a rental rate reduction or return the rental equipment. If returning, be sure to check if the equipment will be available upon construction re-starting.