Coronavirus across the world has caused detrimental effects for families, workers, governments, and key industries. We consider how the crisis could change the construction industry both in the short and long term.
The safety and cleanliness of job sites will improve
The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on many of the different factors of worker health and safety within the industry. New job site policies have been introduced to improve safety such as employee temperature tests, staggered shifts, and deep cleans, and the disinfection of job sites, equipment, and machinery.
Some construction companies went even further with this. Some construction managers implemented even more thorough protocols to promote both health and social distancing messages such as carpooling bans and a strict mask and glove policy, in addition to highly-stocked handwashing stations.
“Employers can no longer conduct business the same way as they did in the past. Especially now, they need to be flexible and in many instances, creative, as they think of new ways to perform certain tasks that they have performed in the same way for many years in the past”, stated attorney Michael Rubin, chair of Goldberg Segalla’s national OSHA and Worksite Safety practice group.
Technology will promote distancing as the norm
Even after the coronavirus pandemic, social distancing on job sites across the US and beyond are likely to continue to some extent. The industry expects to see a reduced number of group activities and more clarity in procedures and protocols, even for some of the simplest daily tasks.
Guidance in Washington state has already been changed. The state now requires employees to keep 6 feet away from each other at all times and if this rule is broken, it could lead to serious problems such as a project shutdown.
Social distancing may not be so hard in the future either, as technology companies have teamed up with the construction industry to develop and introduce innovative communication tools that can be used both on and off-site. An interactive web-based tool allowing clients to hold virtual public meetings has been created by LA-based AECOM.
In addition to this, building departments have been developing remote technology which will be used for inspections. This is certainly a trend that will continue after the crisis fizzles out.
Many projects will take longer
As a result of the new tech and health and safety measures that have been implemented into the industry, projects are expected to take considerably longer in favour of employee health. Suiting up with PPE and staggering shifts are just some of the new processes that will add considerable time to projects whilst on the other hand, increasing value.
“Construction schedules will not be the same as they used to be, things will take a little longer because we won’t be able to have lots of people in the same place at the same time,” stated Mike Benike, Executive Vice President at Rochester.
This may not be a long term effect as companies will slowly adapt to these new processes so expect this to be a short-mid term change.
An increase in telework
Office employees in the construction industry have been encouraged and forced to stay at home in recent times. Workers have been relying on technology such as video conferencing from platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts, and emailing to stay in touch and keep on top of business operations.
In numerous cases, working remotely will uncover benefits to both workers and construction companies that they were unable to see before. This could spark a trend of working remotely across the industry, making working away from the office more common. A study by Gartner found that almost three-quarters of American companies are expected to move five percent of their office employees to permanently remote.
Project demand types are set to change
Projects that were set to be built by the end of this year have been reshaped by the coronavirus outbreak and may be affected for many years to come. Many hospitality, entertainment and retail projects are currently in much less demand whilst areas such as healthcare and healthcare-related manufacturing projects are seeing much more activity. We’ve seen this in recent times with coronavirus hospitals being constructed in China in the space of a number of days, in addition to similar projects that have taken place in Moscow and in other cities across the planet.
This is set to be a short to mid-term change which is expected to turn to normal when the COVID-19 crisis vanishes. For now, though, demand changes combined with instability is set to become the norm.
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