Bay Area construction leaders shared what it’s like to run jobsites in the middle of a devastating pandemic. From staggered starts for field teams to using technology to capture vital health information, construction businesses are learning to adapt to changes on the jobsite rapidly, all the while dealing with unanticipated challenges like project shutdowns and safe reopenings.
All five construction firms surveyed experienced jobsite closures due to COVID-19. The shutdowns depended largely on the type of construction project. For example, companies focusing on low-income multifamily housing experienced little interruption. However, those with commercial projects saw the majority of their jobsites shut down. As of May 17, most of their projects were back in operation (just 11 days after reopening was allowed).
COVID-19 Task Force
One common practice among all the businesses surveyed is the creation of a COVID-19 task force. All respondents said that they sit on at least one task force.
“I am on a task force that has concentrated on how to safely open jobsites,” responded a manager of construction technology at a GC firm. “As we still had a number of jobs running, we were able to learn a lot from those currently open. I am also on a task force that is concentrating on how to safely open our offices. We are taking a lot of the same protocols from jobsites and applying them to our offices. Once protocols and habits are established on jobsites, it is easy to adopt those same principles to the office.”
Value of Technology
Technology was reported to be used more heavily, with most respondents reporting an increased motivation toward, and validation around, the value of technology.
“We are using third-party apps to check people into the jobsites. Everyone can scan a QR post on-site, which brings up a health questionnaire… In the event that someone does get COVID-19, we would be able to use the data collected from the app to know who was on site with that individual and notify all parties who could have come into contact with them.
“We have also set up inspections and forms on Procore to capture this information for those not wanting or able to use the app. We created inspections with simple yes/no parameters to the health questions. Our on-site health inspector can ask an individual the questions and input the responses in Procore for them.
“Each job is also required to keep a form indicating the health cleaning protocols that are being implemented, and how often. We have set up inspections in Procore to allow us to verify those cleaning tasks have been completed, and to keep an easily accessible record of those cleanings,” said a manager of construction technology at a GC firm.
Reopening: “Opening the Valve Slowly”
Participants shared approaches for reopening their jobsites. Their strategies ranged from closely reviewing how each job was shut down, to staggered starts of the workforce, to labor resources and PPE availability.
The clear, defining point was that while each of these companies was successful in their reopening, there was much work around data collection, analysis and reporting in preparation for the reopening. Furthermore, those who pre-planned and put in contingency plans prior to actual shutdowns report experiencing smoother reopenings.
“Much of this had to do with unified communication of safety best practices and safety requirements by our local governments. Internally, we set up training videos to explain the necessity of distancing or how to create masks and other PPE if needed. We did follow the most stringent guidelines to ensure the health and safety of our people and clients,” said a director of technology integration.
One respondent anticipated and prepared for the early May restart in the Bay Area.
“We ordered, received, and organized all of the additional PPE that we thought would be required for the restart,” noted a president and CIO of a Bay Area electrical subcontractor. “We provided our foremen and GF with packages containing the PPE along with sanitization and disinfectant sprays to clean tools and surfaces.”
His team also developed a “return-to-work” protocol, trained all of their foreman and general foreman, and created a video that outlined the new protocols for all workers.
“With all of the above preparation already addressed, we chose to return to jobsites by opening the valve slowly,” the respondent added.
Still, others did not have to close their jobsites at all.
“My site was never shut down and was actually used as a model on how to run a COVID-19 safe site,” said a respondent who is a superintendent at a GC firm.
“Workers’ safety is always at the forefront and documenting everything from the new regulations to the frequency of cleanup is a critical path to remain open. Procore is used heavily in this process.”
Social Distancing and Safety on the Jobsite
In an industry where standing side-by-side to work is not at all uncommon, construction companies now have to find new ways of working productively while keeping the required distance.
For one GC that means requiring the company’s workers to use face shields at all times. Man lifts have been separated with showers curtains to enable social distancing. The company also added two-full time workers whose sole responsibility is COVID-19 sanitation.
For another GC, caution tape is put up to notify others that they’re working in the area. As wearing a mask all day can be especially tough in the summer, the company also makes sure to remind its workers to drink more water.
“As summer creeps in, people who have masks on might drink less, so it’s important they stay hydrated,” explained a project executive at an electrical specialty contractor firm.
Another GC has found that using staggered starts have been very useful for social distancing and staying safe.
“It allows less congestion at the start of the day, especially during health check-ins. This way people have more room to social distance during breaks and lunches which are also staggered. It also eases some congestion/lines for bathrooms during breaks and lunches,” the respondent said. “That helps keep work and schedules progressing forward.”
The GC is also spreading out staging areas. Whenever possible, they are giving each trade their own area for staging.
“Within their own areas, they should also have enough room to social distance away from each other.”