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Owners in the construction industry and the pandemic’s challenges – 2020 Top Owners Sourcebook

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Decision-making under the pandemic created a considerable number of new critical responsibilities for construction owners. According to the ENR’s 2020 Top Owners Sourcebook keeping people safe and staff retainment were essential topics to address by these leaders.

Uncertainty and ways to prepare

Under the uncertainty created by the pandemic, most owners didn’t know how to handle the situation. According to Stephen Mulva, Director at the Construction Industry Institute (CII), one CII member lamented his company did develop plans for shutdowns previously, but not one for a pandemic.

Mulva told ENR, CII has held a series of weekly webinars since March on how to keep safety for employees, shut down a project responsibly, and handle mobility under different work restrictions across state lines.

Now that the economy is progressively recovering, the Institute is also releasing a series of new webinars on how to restart projects, handle losses, and reacquire lost investment sources.

In that regard, Art Limper, global safety and construction director at Merck, told ENR methodology is crucial in recovery processes. According to the director, shutting down large-scale projects now requires owners to do it both quickly and safely.

Therefore, even in shutdowns, “make sure the condition you leave it in is the condition you anticipate coming back to. [Everything] needs to be documented,” he said.

The construction industry and people’s safety

One main concern for owners related to the pandemic is how to keep workers safe. Greg Sizemore, executive vice president of the Construction Users Roundtable (CURT), shared with ENR workplace restrictions and worker worries on contracting the virus, have been crucial for industry leaders to address.

“We are seeing some contractors with great safety programs suddenly experiencing a spike in safety incidents and are now seeing experience modifier rates above 1.0. We haven’t seen that level in years.”

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To address those concerns, James Boileau, risk engineering director at the construction segment of Zurich North America, recommends owners to assess the risks. Also to develop a plan to deal with them, and then communicate the project with their teams.

He added, COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, health follow-ups for the infected and non-infected employees, and how you manage that process are essential elements for situations like these.

Not only health is relevant since the pandemic has also accelerated other safety trends. For instance, the introduction of new technologies led to the more common use of virtual job walks and many other platforms. For owners, the use of these digital tools has shown they can be cheaper and just as efficient as the face-to-face ones.

Staff Losses

A big concern for owners is the increasing reluctance of some senior workers to return to work physically. Although worker levels are currently high (401(k) levels, according to ENR reported data), a long-term scenario requires more preparation.

That is why several construction leaders are working on the Construction Workforce Development Assessment tool, developed by the National Center for Construction Education and Research.

This tool looks to provide accurate demonstrations for contractors regarding workforce development plans and trained workers supply. Although the effort hasn’t received much attention from other sector owners, now that the recovery is happening, an increased interest in the tool is expected.

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