What Leading Construction Companies Are Doing During the Pandemic

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As the coronavirus pandemic brings countless businesses to a grinding halt, the construction industry remains resilient — even in the face of tremendous challenge.  

Unlike many industries where “working from home” and “drive-thru service” are feasible countermeasures, construction firms have job sites to run.

“You can’t hang drywall from your house,” Chris Hopper, executive vice president and general manager of Skanska, told the Cincinnati Business CourierSkanska is a New York-based construction and development firm with projects throughout the country. The company employs more than 10,000 people. Skanska has developed a multifaceted COVID-19 response plan to help keep employees safe and job sites operational.

We looked at what Skanska and other leading construction firms are doing in the current pandemic.

Essential elements of COVID-19 response

  • Understand and follow CDC guidelines.
  • Place restrictions on travel.
  • Develop screening measures for employees who have recently traveled.
  • Instruct employees to stay home if they are feeling sick.
  • Place restrictions on in-person meetings and other employee gatherings.
  • Encourage employees to work from home if feasible.
  • Train all employees on the 6-foot distancing rule, no handshakes, etc.
  • Establish thorough cleaning protocols at offices and job sites.
  • Increase availability of cleaning supplies and hand-washing stations at offices and job sites.
  • Donate N95 respirator masks to local hospitals.
  • Stay up to date on both federal and local COVID-19 developments.
  • Maintain clear, honest and ongoing communication with employees and subcontractors, and perhaps clients and suppliers.

Mitigating exposure

Social distancing is a critical component of any COVID-19 response plan. Turner Construction Co., a New York-based firm that employs about 10,000 people, has started limiting the size of employee gatherings and put a stop to large group meetings. Remote conferencing technology is now being utilized for meetings. Because of that, Turner Construction has expanded its network capacity and training tools to accommodate this surge in online network activity.

Sometimes an essential meeting that requires in-person attendance must take place. Turner Construction mandates that these meetings occur in spaces allowing for adequate social distancing. The CDC recommends that people remain roughly 6 feet apart. Also, Turner Construction is adapting standard operating procedures to limit the number of employees in an elevator or hoist at a given time.

Harkins, an employee-owned construction company based in Maryland, constantly reminds employees about the 6-foot rule. Additionally, sick employees are sent home immediately. All gatherings such as lunches are forbidden, and all meetings are now conducted remotely via Microsoft Teams.

Monitoring employees who travel has been another point of focus for construction companies.

Skanska issued a ban on all international travel through at least April. Domestic travel has also been greatly limited.

Turner Construction has restricted all business travel to any CDC Level 3 country, which is a country deemed to have widespread transmission. Also, if any employee had traveled to or had close contact with anyone who traveled to one of these countries, that employee is not allowed onto a Turner job site or office for 14 days from the date of contact. Taking it a step further, any employee who exhibits any of the common COVID-19 symptoms is instructed to stay away from Turner job sites and facilities.

Promote good hygiene

Hygiene has also been at the top of the list for Turner Construction. All job sites are required to provide access to hand-washing stations. Additionally, staff has been trained to frequently clean and disinfect often-touched objects, such as lunch tables, coffee machines and door knobs.

Harkins has instituted a long list of job site protocols to help improve awareness. For example, CDC and OSHA guidelines are now posted in all conspicuous locations on job sites. Job site leaders are trained to closely monitor employee behavior to ensure that the guidelines are being followed.

Harkins has also taken steps to step up job site cleaning. Trailers are now cleaned daily. Furthermore, a commercial cleaning service is brought in to clean and disinfect certain areas of a job site if COVID-19 exposure is suspected to have taken place. Harkins has also increased the volume of hand sanitizing products deployed to job sites.

Establish dedicated teams

Skanska has established a Coordination Response Team in each market it serves. Teams are tasked with monitoring COVID-19 developments, sharing information with employees and business partners, and implementing protocols.

Turner Construction has also established a dedicated COVID-19 Action Team. Efforts to support employees are an essential part of this team’s focus. Support is a key element that can get overshadowed in the midst of everything that is going on. This crisis has been taking a tremendous toll on many. Employers can play a constructive role in helping people cope.

On that note, Turner’s COVID-19 Action Team has gathered information to help employees guard against coronavirus-related scams, which are unfortunately emerging on a regular basis. The company has established a “fraud alert page” where employees can receive up-to-date information.

Honest communication

Skanska is utilizing its internal company website (intranet) to provide general updates on COVID-19. The intranet is also being used to reinforce guidelines and standard operating procedures. This same information is also available through the company’s mobile app.

As reported by the Cincinnati Business Courier, telling employees to stay home when they are not feeling well is a critical piece to maintaining a safe, functioning job site. To reinforce the importance of this policy, HGC Groups, a large regional general contractor based in Cincinnati, has temporarily stopped recording unscheduled absences. In other words, an employee who thinks they may have COVID-19 symptoms will not be penalized for calling in sick to work.

Life goes on

In Orlando, Florida, work on a $2.15 billion airport project continues amidst the COVID-19 crisis. As reported by the Orlando Business Journal, several guidelines have been put into place so work can continue:

  • Employees showing signs of illness are sent home.
  • Additional handwashing stations have been made available.
  • More frequent cleaning of high-touch areas like stairwells.
  • Administrative staffs are evaluated for possible shift adjustments to limit personal interaction.

The economic toll of COVID-19 has already set in. That said, some financial analysts expect that industries like manufacturing and construction will be among the last to begin issuing layoffs. That is due to the significant shortage of skilled workers these industries have already been experiencing.

Rather, construction firms are expected to take proactive measures to help protect their workers and ongoing projects. The best practices outlined here showcase what leading construction firms are already doing in this regard.

Lobby for relief

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) says it has been lobbying for the construction industry to be deemed “essential” as government officials issue new mandates for certain business closures. AGC has also expressed support for the $2 trillion relief package.

In addition, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), show owner and producer of CONEXPO-CON/AGG, says it is working closely with federal, state and local officials to make sure they take immediate steps to contain the spread of COVID-19, support equipment manufacturers and their employees, maintain vital supply chains and ensure the country’s economic resilience. AEM sent a letter to the president requesting that the federal government designate equipment manufacturers, suppliers, and dealers as “essential,” providing state and local jurisdictions with a clear and consistent federal directive moving forward.

AEM continues to urge Congress and the president to take action on the following policies that would support the construction industry:

About the author: AEM is the North American-based international trade group representing off-road equipment manufacturers and suppliers, with more than 950 companies and more than 200 product lines in the agriculture and construction-related sectors worldwide. AEM has an ownership stake in and manages several world-class exhibitions, including CONEXPO-CON/AGG.


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