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Construction Continues Amidst Shutdowns

Thursday, April 2, 2020

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Although President Donald J. Trump announced that the country’s social distancing guidelines would be extended through April 30 at the beginning of the week, the construction industry remains essential in most states amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recently released a memorandum identifying essential critical infrastructure workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the department stressed that the memo is advisory in nature, and not a mandate.

COVID-19-Related Construction Halt History

On March 17, Boston became the first U.S. city to halt construction activities amid the pandemic, with Mayor Martin Walsh banning all construction in the city for 14 days after reporting that 33 people had been infected with the virus at the time.

All projects—regardless of size—were stopped in the city except for what the Mayor called “emergency projects,” such as: emergency utility, road or building work; new utility connections on occupied buildings; mandated building or utility work; work at public health facilities, shelters and other facilities that support vulnerable populations; work involving transportation networks; and other work necessary for occupied residential buildings.

At the same time, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission also ordered all contractors to cease work on current projects for a minimum of two weeks, becoming the first state in the nation to suspend infrastructure-based construction during the pandemic.

BalkansCat / Getty Images

Although President Donald J. Trump announced that the country’s social distancing guidelines would be extended through April 30 at the beginning of the week, the construction industry remains essential in most states, having moderate affects from the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, on March 31, PennDOT reported that 61 emergency and critical highway and bridge projects would be activated statewide, although the normal highway and bridge construction program would remain paused.

"A safe and reliable transportation network is always of the utmost importance, but it becomes even more crucial in times of crisis," said Acting PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian. "We need to ensure that work continues on these critical projects, and we are taking the proper precautions to help ensure the safety of both our employees and our partners in the industry."

Also occurring in mid-March, the Trump administration requested that U.S. construction companies donate their safety mask inventory to hospitals and health care facilities currently experiencing shortages.

Additionally, legislation was being passed around in Congress that included N95 liability protections for companies that manufacture and sell masks, as the masks are reported to be just as acceptable for healthcare workers in avoiding the inhalation of a respiratory disease.

The following week, the National Roofing Contractors Association wrote to President Trump expressing concerns over the definitions of “essential businesses” and “essential workers” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NRCA went on to note that the roofing industry—including all manufacturers, raw material suppliers, distributors and contractors—is an essential $100 billion sector with an estimated 1.1 million employees altogether. The association also assembled a resource page for contractors seeking direction during the crisis.

The American Institute of Architects 2020 President Jane Frederick, FAIA, and EVP/CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA also issued a letter to Congress around the same time, addressing what the institute views as critical needs from small business owners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The AIA also requested investment in 21st Century Infrastructure as well as temporary relief measures for business owners.

And at the end of the month, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee released a construction-specific clarification that specified that most construction under the state’s stay-at-home mandate is not considered essential activity.

Exceptions for the order include: construction related to essential activities as described in the order (these included healthcare, transportation, energy, defense and critical manufacturing); construction to further a public purpose related to a public entity or governmental function or facility; or construction to prevent spoliation and avoid damage or unsafe conditions, and address emergency repairs at both non-essential businesses and residential structures.

The city of Boston also extended its construction moratorium indefinitely the same week and New York City’s Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo suspended all but “essential” construction.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott also issued orders last month sentencing the shutdown of non-critical construction.

Construction Industry Pressing Forward

Of the states continuing construction efforts, California—the first state to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order—has been keeping all housing, critical and strategic infrastructure projects on schedule.

While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recently released a memorandum identifying essential critical infrastructure workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the department stressed that the memo is advisory in nature, and not a mandate.

At the latter-half of March, the Ohio Department of Transportation reported that it would continue to stay on schedule with ongoing infrastructure projects. According to reports, the state chose to keep production on schedule as the state previously announced in November the outline of 10 projects the Department’s Transportation Review Advisory Council chose to focus on in 2020.

4kodiak / Getty Images

Of the states continuing construction efforts, California—the first state to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order—has been keeping all housing, critical and strategic infrastructure projects on schedule.

Additionally, Washington, D.C., as also kept construction and building trades under its list of essential businesses. However, the city released additional set of guidelines for construction sites to abide during the pandemic including, but not limited to: keeping soap and sanitizers onsite, social distancing practices and preserving personal protection equipment.

Work on the U.S.-Mexico border wall is also reported to be on track in Arizona. The state has also labeled construction work and necessary work done by the federal government as essential.

Other states reported to deem construction as essential include Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Remaining states that haven’t issued a state-wide order are either assumed to have no construction restrictions or have since issued localized restrictions.

For states and local governments choosing to press forward with construction efforts, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently published “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19” with the aim to help companies respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The guidance was developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and contain information on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, as well as safe work practices and appropriate protective equipment based on the risk level of exposure.

The Associated General Contractors of America also released a survey compiled from 1,640 respondents regarding the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the construction industry. Conducted March 23-25, the survey indicates that 45% of contractors are experiencing project delays or disruptions as a result of COVID-19.

On the flip side, 8% of firms did report they have added new work expanding health care and other facilities needed to respond to the growing health crisis.

Along with the survey results, the AGC warned that while coronavirus relief measures will provide some immediate help for construction workers and their employers, “Congress must do more to protect high-paying construction jobs.”

“The steps firms are taking to protect workers from the coronavirus unfortunately won’t be enough to save many of them from the economic damage the pandemic is creating,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “Construction workers and employers need more than a lifeline, they need a recovery plan.”

North America's Building Trades Unions is also lobbying for construction to remain essential, along with other various construction-related organizations, associations and other unions, going as far to support a federal-level designation of construction as an essential business.

"It is vital to sustain construction and maintenance on the sixteen critical physical and virtual infrastructure sectors identified by the Department of Homeland Security, as well as projects of regional and national significance," NABTU President Sean McGarvey said.

"We support, and are providing guidance for, recommended health and safety job site precautions for construction workers, especially those building more hospital capacity in areas hardest hit by COVID-19," he continued. "Pandemic or no pandemic, the health and safety of our members is always our number one priority on and off a job site."

John Doherty, communications director of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades adds that, “It’s a crisis that’s putting a strain on construction, but it’s kind of multifaceted. A lot of our members may be in danger there. Those areas have to make sure they’re following the right protocols, like the EEOC guidance on personal protective equipment and cleaning down job sites. At the end of the day that’s the number-one priority, that these projects are safe.”

View all of PaintSquare Daily News' coverage on COVID-19, here.

   

Tagged categories: Commercial Construction; Construction; COVID-19; Government; Health and safety; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; President Trump; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Residential Construction; Roads/Highways; Transportation

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