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What Should Construction Do During These Times?

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

Its March 23, 2020, and this is one of the big questions facing the #construction industry today. In Arizona, we are continuing to work as much as possible. The big question is...should we continue to work, and how do we do it? Several groups have weighed in on this and I wanted to share the best links I have that contain this information.

Many projects across the U.S. are continuing to build, but some are having difficulty with staffing, and others have been halted due to owner or government directives. A survey conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America says more than one-quarter of member firms in the U.S. have already halted or delayed work on projects due to COVID-19, while only 11% of firms report possible delays in jobs scheduled to start a month or more out. Read more about that in an article by Engineering News Record by clicking here to view the article, or you can download the entire survey here as a PDF.

Both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AGC have written letters urging government to consider and declare #construction and construction projects as critical infrastructure and essential business. The letter by the Chamber, addressed to President Trump, states in part...

Several counties have promulgated mandatory quarantines that include specific exceptions for “essential infrastructure” and “essential business” that our members find strike the right balance and we recommend these examples as a model for any state or local government issuing similar directives. For example, the federal government should recommend exemptions for “essential infrastructure” that that allows individuals to leave their residence to provide any services or perform any work necessary to the operations and maintenance of “essential infrastructure,” including, but not limited to, public works construction, construction of housing (in particular affordable housing or housing for individuals experiencing homelessness), airport operations, water, sewer, gas, electrical, nuclear, oil refining and other critical energy services, roads and highways, public transportation, solid waste collection and removal, internet, and telecommunications systems (including the provision of essential global, national, and local infrastructure for computing services, business infrastructure, communications, and web-based services), provided that they carry out those services or that work in compliance with social distancing requirements.

You can read more about the Chamber's efforts in an article by by clicking here, or download the entire letter written to President Trump by clicking here. You can read about the AGC's efforts by following them on LinkedIn. They also have a take action page that stresses their concerns and lets you send a message to legislators that is located here. In addition, AGC published a press release on March 21st, in which the AGC President and the President of North America's Building Trades Unions, Sean McGarvey, issued this joint statement...

Government officials at all levels should treat the construction industry and the work it performs as vital and essential to the critical industries that must remain in operation. Construction workers provide an invaluable economic service, maintaining and improving the nation’s infrastructure, including critically important energy and communication systems, roads and bridges, and social infrastructure, including police, fire and health care facilities.

Click here to read that article and its additional comments.

The chief executive officer of AGC, Stephen E. Sandherr, has made some important points that should be considered by everyone when trying to make these difficult decisions, and has called the blanket halting of construction activity arbitrary and unnecessary.

Halting construction activity will do more harm than good for construction workers, community residents and the economy. Construction firms are already acting to ensure the safety and health of their employees in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. These new measures, which include increased hygiene and halting group gatherings of staff, are in addition to the fact construction workers already wear protective equipment, including gloves that will help protect them and their co-workers. Sandherr continued by stating that, “halting construction will do little to protect the health and safety of construction workers. But it will go a long way in undermining economic vitality by depriving millions of workers of the wages they will need over the coming days. At the same time, these measures have the potential to bankrupt many construction firms who have contractual obligations to stay on schedule or risk incurring significant financial penalties.

An article published by AZBigMedia includes these comments along with comments from construction leaders in Arizona discussing what they are doing to continue construction and act responsibly during these unprecedented times.

I have a construction client here in Arizona that I believe is an example of what the industry should be doing at this time. I have visited both their offices and several job sites. The offices are almost empty, with most employees doing what they can to work from home, using #constructiontechnology to facilitate virtual meetings, facilitate the distribution of construction plans and information, and helping them to collaborate remotely. They have also taken extraordinary steps in the office to protect those few people that do need to come in. This includes having their cleaning crews take extra steps to clean and sanitize workspaces and restrooms, and rooms that are not receiving this deep cleaning are posted as off limits. On their jobsites they are taking extra steps to remind workers not to congregate. They have established clean areas with plenty of space for workers to take breaks and eat, and additional sanitary facilities have been brought out to the sites. When one crane operator had to stay home, they took steps to clean and sanitize the cab of the crane before having another operator brought in.

At this time, everything I have seen leads me to agree with AGC and the Chamber. I believe that what we should be doing right now is continuing our construction projects and activities in a safe and responsible manner. We can do this while practicing proper hygiene and social distancing, and doing so will help to prevent what would be a devastating economic hardship for one of the largest industries in the World and all of the people that depend on our industry.

There is an effort being spearheaded by the North American Concrete Alliance to send letters to both state and national government officials, urging them not to halt construction. They have set up an on-line resource that allows you to almost instantly send letters to all the appropriate officials. It takes about 3 minutes to do the whole thing. I encourage everyone to review the information and make your own decision. If you agree that this is the right thing to do, you can generate and send a letter to your state's Governor by clicking here (all you need is your own contact info - it will do the rest), and you can send letters to your congressional representatives by clicking here (click on "take action" when you get to the screen - again, all you need is your own contact info).

This situation is extremely fluid, and circumstances will probably change rapidly as this situation continues to evolve. This article contains the best information that I have right now, and contains my opinion on what the industry should be doing right now. None of the links in this article are behind paywalls. You can click any of them to read the articles that have been cited and download the letters, survey, and reports that have been cited. As the situation continues, I will provide updates to this article here and in my LinkedIn feed.

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