The coronavirus pandemic has shut down businesses, schools and churches across the country, but construction continues largely unaffected. In most states, construction is considered essential, by default, if not by decree.
While construction does not make the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s list of what they consider “critical infrastructure sectors,” construction can claim a role in nearly all of the 16 categories that do comprise the CISA list. Construction projects enhance and expedite the development of essential services like mass transit infrastructure, water systems, the power grid, health care and more.
“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,” says a joint statement from the CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America and the president of North America’s building trades unions.
Whether because of this statement of unity, or the fact that no one has said “no,” a shutdown or even significant slowdown of the construction industry has not yet materialized during the coronavirus outbreak. It seems likely that this will continue to be the case throughout the crisis, although some states, like Pennsylvania, have officially declared construction as “non life-sustaining,” or in other words, non-essential.
Policies vary from state to state, but construction is allowed to continue in most of them.
But that doesn’t mean that everything is business as usual. According to the experts at the popular construction-based website The Hard Hat Guy, construction workers face unprecedented challenges to their safety and their ability to perform their jobs. They have to consider things they never had to worry about before and the work environment has been altered dramatically in many cases.
While relatively few construction jobs have been lost or put on hold during the COVID-19 outbreak, nearly all have been impacted in some way. The following checklist details some important considerations for construction companies and their employees:
- Supply lines are likely to be disrupted. Companies should order supplies early, manage inventories with greater precision and anticipate shortages.
- The workforce will be short-handed. Employees can get sick, can self-quarantine or can be stuck at home with children who are out of school. Union halls and job placement centers might not be able to supply manpower, because they too will be dealing with the same problems.
- Social distancing is difficult on the construction worksite. With team operations, team-lift, crew vehicles and confined spaces, it’s impossible to maintain a six-foot null area around workers.
- Personal hygiene is a learned discipline. Construction workers work in dirty, dusty, muddy conditions and things like hand sanitizing, gloves and face masks seem trivial in comparison. Some workers, short of a mandate from their supervisors, will doubtless push back against new regulations designed to keep them safe.
- Contractors should file a mechanics lien to ensure prompt (relative to the normalization of the industry when the coronavirus crisis has passed) payment for delayed projects.
- Small business loans are available to businesses affected by the outbreak. This link provides important details on how to apply for SBA loans.
The coronavirus pandemic has created issues that few people could have imagined even six weeks ago, and the situation remains very fluid. Keeping up to date with state and local mandates and trends will be crucial for months to come.
1. Jenn Goodman, Construction Dive, 3/20/2020, https://www.constructiondive.com/news/contractors-in-us-coronavirus-affected-areas-say-its-business-as-usual/573409/
2. Propublica.org, 3/24/2020, https://www.propublica.org/article/coronavirus-essential-factory-workers-illinois
3. Louis Casiano, Fox News, 3/24/2020, https://www.foxnews.com/us/coronavirus-who-are-considered-essential-workers
4. Doug Delony, Marcelino Benito (KHOU), 3/24/2020, https://www.khou.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/so-what-is-an-essential-business-or-job/285-1b1e3a7a-b176-426f-ad96-efc1255375fb
5. Irene Jiang, Business Insider, 3/24/2020, https://www.businessinsider.com/what-is-a-nonessential-business-essential-business-coronavirus-2020-3
6. Andrew Khouri, Los Angeles Times, 3/21/2020, https://www.latimes.com/homeless-housing/story/2020-03-21/coronavirus-construction-california-stay-at-home
7. Rosa Goldensohn, The City, 3/23/2020, https://thecity.nyc/2020/03/nyc-construction-workers-on-job-amid-coronavirus-concerns.html
8. Level Set, 3/25/2020, https://www.levelset.com/blog/construction-essential-business-coronavirus/
9. Level Set, 3/23/2020, https://www.levelset.com/blog/filing-mechanics-lien-coronavirus-impact/
10. Level Set, 3/23/2020, https://www.levelset.com/blog/sba-loans-construction-cash-help-coronavirus/