The construction industry is in the middle of what may be one of the most defining points in it’s short term history. The Coronavirus or COVID-19 is the latest pandemic having a major impact on companies and industries around the world, yet the construction industry is holding out amongst backlash and criticism. What’s even more scary is that this likely won’t be the last pandemic or outbreak in our generation. So what can you do as a contractor to manage your business and jobsite during a disease outbreak such as the coronavirus?
As a contractor there are a number of approaches you can take including:
- Stay calm and don’t make rash decisions
- Refer to the professionals and consider engaging one
- Ensure your company has an outbreak emergency response plan
- Provide constant communication
- Ensure the safety of your workers
- Protect yourself legally
I’m going to walk through each of the above items in more depth, but the most important rule to remember is this:
“You will get through this, it will all work out, the world will go on.”
Stay Calm and Don’t Make Rash Decisions
One of the things that has amazed me most about this pandemic is the way people are reacting. Social media has been one of the most incredible inventions of our time, allowing us to share content across the globe. Yet, in times of uncertainty it can breed panic. Images of people hoarding, rioting and empty streets can lead to fear which can also lead to you making rash decisions that may not be the best for your construction team.
While this may seem obvious to some, it’s very easy to get caught up in the moment. Before you make any decisions that will have an impact on your team it’s important that you fully inform yourself. For this I would recommend doing your research on how the pandemic is impacting businesses. If the pandemic started elsewhere research what industries it impacted and spread through the fastest. This will give you insight into how it impacted the construction industry in other areas and will help guide your decision.
Another useful subject is to look into how other construction companies are managing the pandemic or in this case the coronavirus. A quick google search will educate you and give you some great ideas on things your team can implement to keep your workers safe.
Your number one priority during uncertain times should be the safety of your workers and security of their jobs. Schedule and budget are important but don’t exist without your team.
Refer To Professionals and Consider Engaging One
The construction industry loves it’s consultants. We literally have one for every subject: testing, envelope, safety, structural, heritage the list goes on and on. We do this because our teams recognize that they may not always know the best. It’s important to rely on experts for complex subjects.
It’s for this reason that the construction industry is in an enviable position. We are used to listening to experts in our field.
Listen to professionals In the event of a pandemic such as the coronavirus. The people that deal with this type of challenge everyday. For the construction industry experts can include:
- World Health Organization (WHO) – https://www.who.int/
- Your Federal, Provincial or State Level health experts
- Doctors and scientists specializing in the field of study
- Health consultants specialized in viruses and pandemics
While not every company can afford to bring on healthcare professionals, if you are able to it may be worthwhile. Consider engaging a doctor to check in on your workforce. Engaging a consultant can help your team develop workplace guidelines that can be implemented in the event of an emergency.
One of the best approaches to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak I’ve seen so far is by a local general contractor. They have engaged a specialist in viruses and pandemics to help guide their companies decision making. Doctors have been engaged to go to sites each day to check on workers. Hygiene experts have been engaged to work with the two aforementioned individuals and put in place cleaning and safety guidelines for their construction sites.
Ensure Your Construction Team Has An Outbreak Emergency Response Plan
An emergency response plan is one of those things that you don’t realize you need until you really do. Don’t wait for the next pandemic or until you’re in the middle of one to develop an emergency response plan.
If you’ve already engaged some of the professionals we noted above – start with them. If you haven’t it’s time to engage a health and safety professional to help your develop a plan. Regardless, an emergency response plan to a pandemic should include the following:
- Steps on identifying a pandemic
- Corporate levels of response to a pandemic (ie levels of readiness)
- Worker and management roles in the event of a pandemic
- Appoint individuals or a committee and assign responsibility for executing the program
- Steps to ensure construction worker safety during a pandemic(ie social distancing)
- Responses to a pandemic affecting one or more of the workers including locations of facilities for treatment
- Recovery response plans
Your emergency response plan should be developed as the go to document in the event of a pandemic. To ensure that your employees, clients and consultants are aware of the actions you need to take make sure that they receive copies of it as well. It never hurts to be overprepared for a given situation.
If You’re A Construction Business Owner….
It may also be worthwhile to consider drills or practicing the steps outlined in the emergency response plan within your organization. By doing so you will help to reassure employees and workers you are prepared all the while refining and providing practice to your team members.
Lastly, if you are a business owner ensure that your emergency response plan includes a chain of command. It needs to be clear to your organization who will make decisions in the event you or a member of your senior team get sick.
Provide Constant Communication
The last thing you want to do as a construction company during a pandemic such as COVID-19 is to stop communicating. Your clients, trades and consultants rely on you to be consistent during the construction phase, even in times of emergency.
There are many forms of communication in construction, we’re going to address a few of the ways you can reach the people you need to below:
|Form Of Communication||Benefit|
(Phone Calls, Emails, Presence On Site)
|One of the most effective ways we can communicate to our team is through informal communication, regularly staying in touch through email and phone calls can help to provide reassurance.|
(Phone Calls, Emails, Presence on Site)
Frequency: Weekly or as needed.
|Issuing formal updates through email, letter and phone calls (conference calls) can help to provide reassurance to your partners that you’re taking things seriously and have a plan.|
|Graphics and Signage
Frequency: As needed.
|Hoarding and signage is important on a jobsite. Use it to communicate to workers and passerby’s what you’re doing to prevent the spread of the pandemic and reassure people that you take their health safety.|
|Manuals and Guidelines
Frequency: As Needed
|These can be share via the above (email) but are in place to communicate to people the correct steps to take. It provides guidance and instruction during times of stress and uncertainty.|
Ferquency: As Needed.
|Video is a great way to communicate empathy. Having senior leaders communicate to workers via video in times of isolation can help reassure people that you’re there for them and understand what they are going through.|
Frequency: As needed or as appropriate.
|Social media has become a great way to stay in touch with the broader community. Share issues and challenges you’re dealing with. If your typical social media theme is light and fun, consider toning it down and ensuring you’re communicating more serious subjects.
A good example of using social media during a pandemic in construction is by posting steps your workers are taking to ensure the safety of others.
|Other||There are many other forms of communication you can use to get in touch with people. Be creative.|
One of the most important things you can do in a time of a pandemic in construction is to communicate regularly and clearly.
Ensure The Safety Of Your Workers
I’ve mentioned this above, but above all else the most important thing to consider during a pandemic is to ensure the safety of your colleagues and construction workers. No building or activity is worth a human beings life or suffering.
During a pandemic you want to be sure that your workers are safe. This means that taking extra time on site to educate workers about the precautions they should be taking is paramount.
Educating workers on the steps to maintain a safe work environment can be done in a few ways:
- Bulletins and guidelines on working safely
- Weekly and daily toolbox talks with the construction workers
- Incorporation of precautionary measures into pre-job safety inspections
- Additional supervision with attention given to precautionary measures
- Doctors or health and safety representatives checking workers for symptoms
In the event of an outbreak on a project there should be little to no question on the steps required to be taken. The project site needs to be halted immediately, the source identified and the jobsite remain closed or sections isolated until the risk is removed.
Construction workers are uniquely prepared to work during pandemics. Workers are regularly placed in high risk conditions and because of that are more familiar with taking precautionary measures. With that being said – hitting a project schedule at the expense of workers lives is not worth it. Always keep safety of workers top of mind.
Protect Your Construction Company Legally
While the protection of workers and preventing the spread of a disease within your construction company and on jobsites should be top of mind it’s important to protect yourself legally. In the event of an impact to your construction project you should notify the project stakeholders of the delay.
Your contract should be your starting place when understanding the steps and notifications to be undertaken in the event of a delay. Typically you are required to submit a written notice to your client or the architect.
Prior to issuing a formal notice of delay it may be worthwhile to provide a heads up to the team. This can be done formally through a letter identifying the risk, or through meeting minutes or regular reports. Once you’ve identified the delay, issuing a written notice is important. If you need help we have a template for a construction notice of delay over at Construction Repository.
The notice of delay should identify the reason for impact, potential delay and the steps you’ve taken and will be taking to mitigate the impact the owner. This will help to demonstrate that you’re not just throwing your hands in the air.
Further to issuing your formal notice – you should document progress through schedules, progress photos and other media at the start of the impact and regularly throughout. Regularly highlighting drawings can help to understand the progress or lack of progress in an area.
Construction Will Go On After The Pandemic
Running a construction site during a pandemic or epidemic can be a stressful situation. There will be challenges and people that like or dislike every decision you make. As we’ve stated above – all decisions should be made with the worker’s safety top of mind. Instruction should be taken from the experts including government professionals, scientists and doctors.
Always remember that your job will go on after an impact. Be safe. Be smart.