Ways Construction Companies Can Handle the “Long Dark Winter” of Covid

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Robison Wells

Covid cases are reaching massive numbers and breaking records again for the first time since the spring’s initial surge. Construction companies are looking for ways to survive the potential drought of work that may occur if lockdowns continue—as seen in the tens of millions of people under stay-at-home orders in California last week.

Here are some things that construction companies can do now to prepare for the worst:

Keep Meticulous Records

Often in the spring, companies were forced to shut down with little to no warning. This left them in a lurch as they were trying to come back to the jobs weeks or months later, only not to be sure where everything stood.

“A lot of those early shutdown orders came as quite a surprise,” said Philip Casto, senior vice president for risk services at Chicago-based business insurance brokerage HUB International. “It was on the news on Friday that on Monday we were going to be shutting everything down.”

“You want to make sure you have a checklist to run through,” Casto said. “Take photographs of your project, the current percent completed, and any materials or equipment that are going to be left on site.”

Winter is Coming

Leaving a job in the middle of the winter has its own set of challenges and risks, and being prepared to winterize at a moment’s notice is crucial. “You’ve got to make sure you secure all of your assets are secure as we enter the colder months,” Casto said. “There are going to be ice issues; there are going to be building envelope issues. I worry about having to leave a project and not having it buttoned up.”

Part of this winterization includes decisions about construction equipment left on site, including large cranes.

Keep Workers Involved

As seen with both the spring shutdown and the Great Recession, there’s an altogether too-common experience of workers being furloughed and leaving the construction industry for something more stable.

“For instance, if construction is deemed not to be an essential industry, but Amazon can continue to operate, one could expect a lot of construction workers to try to find work in fulfillment centers,” said Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist Anirban Basu. “There’s no guarantee they will come back to the construction trades.”

Keeping the workers involved is key to retaining them in the industry, says Basu.

“So, although a plumber or an electrician can’t do anything from home, we still include them in the weekly meeting,” he said. “We’re looking at the schedule and things that can be done from home, and keep the communication open so that when things do start again, you’re not coming back from a six- or eight-week stoppage. There is some continuity.”

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