As America tempers its expectations for re-opening businesses shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic, employers and workers nationwide are steeling themselves for a “new normal” that may last far beyond the immediate future.
While many sectors of the economy must these face new realities, those in the construction will return to an industry that has been drastically altered by the public safety and economic effects of COVID-19.
From a renewed focus on worksite safety to longer projects, different projects, and the increased influence of organized labor, changes brought by the pandemic may have a lasting impact on U.S. construction.
7 Ways The Coronavirus is Changing Construction
As construction workers make their return to worksites in New York City and across the country, they must face major changes that are leading many contractors and developers to redefine their processes and project performance.
Here are just a few ways the coronavirus is changing construction:
1. Jobsite Safety Redefined
Though COVID-19 isn’t the same type of work-related hazard construction workers are accustomed to, it has shown a spotlight on the importance of workplace safety. In the construction industry, many employers have already implemented new practices for containing coronavirus and keeping workers healthy, including:
- Staggered start times and shift work;
- Temperature checks for workers at the start of each day;
- Controlled access to worksites and increased security / perimeter control;
- Comprehensive disinfection policies for tools, machinery, and work surfaces;
- Increased access to hand washing and sanitizing rub;
- Social distancing policies, including carpool bans, new delivery processing methods, and production / supply chain modifications that utilize pre-fabricated materials when possible.
These and other changes are focused on creating safer, cleaner, and less crowded construction sites, and they’ll require a committed effort from both employers and workers. Even though state and federal regulators may soon adopt more solidified coronavirus-focused safety standards, employers who implement these policies today, medical experts say, will be prepared for the waves of outbreaks expected in the coming months or years.
2. Increased Use of Technology
The pandemic has undeniably accelerated the proliferation of technology and its use in helping people perform tasks that were usually or only done in person. Though construction doesn’t immediately appear to be an industry where zoom meetings or tech tools could be as widely adopted as they have been in others, developers and construction workers will likely see increased use of technology – from more clearly defined procedures and project phasing to the most routine work tasks.
Some of the technological advancements being tested and implemented in construction include:
- Web-based tools that facilitate engagement with customers and the public about proposed and ongoing projects without the need to meet in person;
- Remote technology processes that help regulators and building departments conduct inspections;
- New tech tools on worksites that allow employers to remotely take workers’ temperatures;
- Tech-infused equipment and safety gear, including hard hats that alert works when they are within 6 feet from one another.
3. Longer Project Timelines
Big safety overhauls and the novelty of working in a new way mean it will take longer to complete projects. With less workers, more time for cleaning, and the need for proper PPE and worksite prep, the days of fast-tracking projects may be over.
That could be a big change for developers with psychological hang-ups about delays who need to rethink job planning, but it may be a good thing for workers who can benefit from being able to better focus on safety when performing their jobs.
4. More Remote Work
Although construction workers may not be able to phone it in for most of their tasks, the fleet of office workers, billing departments, and support staff employed by contractors can.
Studies have shown that American companies are transitioning to remote work policies at incredible rates, and many believe telework will become a new normal long after the pandemic subsides. Implementing robust telework policies can help companies manage costs in lean times, and parlay those savings into safety measures that keep workers who do have to perform jobs in person healthier.
5. Growing Union Influence
Organized labor has accomplished incredible feats throughout America’s history, but the percentage of construction workers with union membership has steadily declined since WWII. Amid the pandemic, however, trade unions have taken on prominent roles in advocating for workers’ best interests, while keeping worksites operational and safe. For example, trade unions in New York prompted government officials to shut down projects that remained in operation despite the state being the country’s epicenter of the pandemic.
As the pandemic evolves and new changes and regulatory amendments arise, the need to combat cost-cutting measures and ensure compliance with higher health and safety standards will increase, making labor unions more attractive and more valuable for protecting workers.
6. Different Types of Projects to Be Built
The pandemic will reshape the demand for different types of projects for the foreseeable future. While entertainment, retail, and hospitality projects may wane, construction for health care and medical supply production facilities could grow, as could construction for new types of workspaces that shift from the once-popular “open concept” environment to more private, segmented working areas meant to improve social distancing and ease worker concerns.
As U.S. companies look to overcome supply chain issues by boosting inventory, there will also likely be growing demand for distribution, warehouse, and manufacturing factories. Though it still remains to be seen how the demand for public project will respond to tighter budgets, some municipalities have already allocated funds to modernizing major public facilities and infrastructure, including transportation.
7. Supply Chain Shake-Ups & Prefabrication
The pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the global supply chain. With the U.S. sourcing nearly a third of building materials from China, developers have faced considerable disruptions and delays. As concerns over sourcing and supply chains linger, the construction industry will likely seek solutions by increasing manufacturing at home and in nearby countries such as Mexico.
The need to recalibrate supply chains and increase workplace safety may also see an increase in processes that rely on offsite construction and prefabrication.
Factory production is attractive not only for its efficiency and cost-effectiveness, but also because it will ultimately reduce the time construction workers will be needed in the field, or be required to work closely with one another to assemble materials and parts that could have been prefabricated offsite.
The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C. has been fighting for workers and families in construction accident cases for decades, and has seen first-hand how the industry has responded to tragedies and natural disasters in the past. Though COVID-19 is unlike anything we’ve seen before, we are confident in the strength and resiliency of our essential workers, and are closely following developments so as to best protect those who our help during these difficult times.
If you have a potential case to discuss, contact us.