Despite a major push for broad infrastructure funding in the U.S. House of Representatives, recent
disruptions to the U.S. economy will extend the current recession possibly into 2021. Fallout from
COVID-19, financial and equity market volatility, Federal Reserve emergency policies, and lower oil
prices are contributing to the uncertainty, FMI reports in its second-quarter Outlook.
“Based on the speed, breadth, and apparent lasting impacts of these various factors,” FMI is anticipating the current recession to continue through the remainder of 2020 and possibly into 2021, according to the report. Other factors include the uncertainty of the 2020 presidential election and social unrest.
“Depth and reach of these disruptions will remain under close watch,” stated the consulting firm.
Amid the uncertainty, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the $1.5 trillion Moving Forward Act, an infrastructure bill that would earmark funds for surface transportation, airport, school, housing, healthcare, energy, water, and broadband coverage. “However it also includes numerous anti-merit shop provisions opposed by Associated Builders and Contractors,” reports the organization.
“By requiring anti-competitive provisions, such as government-mandated project labor agreements and inflationary Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements, this bill will dissuade contractors from bidding on projects, drive up overall costs and exclude the overwhelming majority of America’s construction industry professionals who choose not to join a union,” maintains the ABC.
These measures would also have a devastating impact on small construction businesses that are seeking to recover from the ongoing health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19, ABC believes: “The path forward on repairing our nation’s infrastructure should be rooted in fair and open competition and equal opportunity, not policies that favor big labor and costly, ineffective federal mandates.”
Other issues cloud the construction industry’s economic outlook. Nonresidential construction spending declined 0.9 percent in May, based on U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by ABC. On a seasonally adjusted annualized basis, spending totaled $812.5 billion for the month, according to ABC. Private nonresidential spending declined 2.4 percent in May and public nonresidential construction spending increased 1.2 percent.
However, the Associated General Contractors reports that construction activity returned to pre-
coronavirus levels in 34 states, based on data on workers’ hours analyzed by Procore. An association survey found that only 8 percent of construction firms were forced to furlough or lay off workers in June while 21 percent report adding employees, compared to one-in-four firms letting workers go between March and May.
“But it is important to remember that construction activity typically increases quite a bit between March 1 and the end of May as the weather improves and more work gets underway,” Ken Simonson, AGC chief economist, commented. “Getting to March 1 levels is a sign of progress, but it doesn’t mean things are back to normal.”
Simonson added that the data show the severe toll the pandemic took on the construction industry. For example, 61 percent of firms report having had at least one project halted or canceled because of the pandemic. One in four firms report that construction materials shortages, caused by lock downs and trade disruptions, are causing delays on current projects. Meanwhile, the Procore data found that smaller firms experienced more severe declines in construction activity during the pandemic than larger firms.
AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson
AGC Survey June 18
Procore Construction Activity Index
ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu
FMI Construction Forecast
Two recent reports assess the occupational risks of the Coronavirus in construction as compared to other industries. Cody Charland, in a blog post for Safran Law Offices, Raleigh, N.C., reports that the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services found that “construction workers were listed in the third quartile for physical proximity to others (Avg. 62.3), yet first quartile for exposure to diseases (Avg. 8.3).” Another study by the World Economic Forum ranked construction above the average risk for contact with others, physical proximity, and exposure.
Though outdoor construction work offers natural advantages in preventing the spread of coronavirus, precautions still should be taken. Points of transmission which could cause present and future outbreaks remain, including shared tools, as well as common spaces such as outdoor toilets, job site trailers, and work vehicles.
According to Jordan Hollingsworth, Field Operations Manager, in a blog post for Safety Management Group, “Construction projects must develop and implement a Site-Specific Health and Safety Plan consistent with best practices. Every construction project involves unique characteristics and circumstances, so what is appropriate and feasible for each project may be different.”
While the CDC offers construction-specific guidelines, Hollingsworth shared some additional insight. Tailgate safety meetings, for example, should follow CDC guidelines limiting the number of people to 10 or should be executed via video briefings.
Charland also suggests monitoring site logistics. Deliveries should be planned with contact and cleaning protocols, choke points should be identified and barriers installed to limit physical access, and community food areas, like coffeepots and water dispensers, should be eliminated.
“Shared tools should be eliminated wherever possible and all tools should be cleaned regularly. Any
shared equipment (including tools and vehicles) should be disinfected before and after each use, with disinfectant wipes readily available,” says Charland, who also recommends aerial lifts be used by just one person at a time, unless additional PPE is worn.
The CDC reminds construction workers that cloth face coverings are NOT appropriate substitutes where masks or respirators are recommended or required. Cleaning and disinfecting should be done at the beginning and end of every shift and after anyone uses your vehicle, tools, or workstation. Employers should provide soap, clean running water, and materials for drying hands, or alcohol-based hand sanitizers at multiple stations, and install temporary or mobile handwashing stations with single-use paper towels, or provide a large (5+ gallon) bucket with a lid and tap for handwashing. Regularly clean and disinfect the tap and provide fresh clean water daily.
Finally, an article from EHS Today notes, “Few of the guidance documents tell you how to select or use disinfecting chemicals and methods.” The article by Neal Langerman with Advanced Chemical Safety attempts to fill that gap.
How Construction Compares to Other Industries with Coronavirus from Safran Law Offices
Best Construction Safety Practices for COVID-19 from Safety Management Group
What Construction Workers Need to Know about COVID-19 from CDC
Sanitizing and Disinfecting Your Business During the Pandemic from EHS Today
The Steel Joist Institute (SJI) has released Version 2.0 of its Joist Girder Moment Connections. The new downloadable version includes updates to the AISC’s 2016 specifications for most spreadsheets. In the new version, SJI also revised reference manuals to make them easier to follow.
Other updates include spreadsheets that are corrected and matched to each reference manual example, and figures that have been reviewed and modified for consistency, along with new notes and clarifying dimensions.
SJI’s Design Tools include Joist Girder Moment Connections to the Strong Axis of Wide Flange Columns; Strong Axis of Wide Flange Columns-Intermediate Levels; Weak Axis of Wide Flange Columns; HSS Columns – Top Plate; HSS Columns – Knife Plates; and Wide Flange Columns – Knife Plates.
“The tools were developed to assist the Structural Engineer of Record, the connection designer, and the steel fabricator with the complex task of designing appropriate connections between joist girders and columns,” according to SJI’s website. The tool can be downloaded at steeljoist.org, and once in your cart, allows you access to the Joist Girder Moment Connection Design Tools.
OSHA has postponed the 7th annual National Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction, originally scheduled for May, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event will be rescheduled this summer, but OSHA urges vigilance on the jobsite.
Because falls remain the leading cause of fatal injuries to construction workers, while the National
Stand-Down is postponed OSHA encourages employers to use all available resources for worker safety. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees.
OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.
Five steel industry groups are pushing Congress to include significant infrastructure investment in the next phase of COVID-19 stimulus legislation. The goal is to provide a clear path toward our nation’s recovery.
The letter was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, according to a steel.org report. The American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC), American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), Steel Manufacturers Association (SMA), The Committee on Pipe and Tube Imports (CPTI), and Specialty Steel Industry of North America (SSINA) reiterated that 38% of America’s 616,000 bridges are in need of replacement or rehabilitation.
“Making a long-term and robust infrastructure investment now will not only respond to the urgent
transportation system needs, but it also will create high-paying jobs allowing businesses and families to recover from this extremely difficult economic shock,” they wrote. “With such a staggering backlog of substandard bridges, there is significant opportunity to put Americans back to work and back on the road to economic recovery.
“We can…improve quality of life in our cities, towns, and rural areas and drive commerce and supplies across our nation by making infrastructure investment a critical component of the next stimulus package by including Buy America provisions and using domestically produced and fabricated steel.”
The groups concluded that the infrastructure supply chain for steel products used in highway and bridge construction “starts with American steel producers, who have revolutionized the industry by developing clean and efficient steelmaking processes at mills located strategically throughout the country,” noting that steel is sold directly or through national distributors to construction companies and steel fabricators who have built plants, and created jobs, in virtually every congressional district in America.
The Steel Erectors Association of America (SEAA) attended its first ConExpo-Con/Agg show last
week in Las Vegas, Nev. Despite the decision by show organizer Association of Equipment
Manufacturers (AEM) to close the show a day early due to uncertainty over COVID-19,
registration for the event totaled more than 130,000.
SEAA’s experience was a positive one. “In spite of the recent health crisis, we were able to
make great connections with industry professionals and SEAA member companies,” said Tom
Underhill, Executive Director of SEAA. “Participation gave SEAA exposure to an international
Drew Heron, Project Manager for Empire Steel, who volunteered at SEAA’s booth, said: “The
show is so much bigger than one could ever imagine. You have the opportunity to see so many
new tools, products and technologies that could really benefit the industry and SEAA member
companies,” said Heron. “AEM is to be commended for the way they handled the unprecedent
situation with the pandemic. In true Vegas fashion, the show must go on!”
Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) in Construction: Liability, Recordability, and Financial Implications
Over the past few weeks, it’s become clear that the world is facing a remarkable health crisis.
The coronavirus pandemic has now been detected in most countries worldwide, creating
personal, practical, and legal implications for those in the construction industry. To address
business considerations of the COVID-19 threat, employers should consider multiple categories
Recordability, EMR, and Insurance Costs
A recent publication from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has
confirmed that COVID- 19 is a recordable event; this means that employees who contract the
virus while at work must be recorded on an employer’s OSHA300 Log. These cases may be
compensable under Worker’s Compensation if it can be proven that the virus was contracted
on the job (which is fairly simple to uphold if multiple employees become infected at the same
time). In other states, it has already been decided that Worker’s Compensation will be
extended to workers exposed to COVID-19 on the job and will be inclusive of time in
quarantine, medical testing, medical expenses, and indemnity payments while out of work.
Considering the long incubation and recovery periods associated with COVID-19, these
recordable events are likely to have high levels of “Days Away From Work” and “Restricted
Duty”; furthermore, due to the contagious nature of the virus, there is significant potential for
multiple cases within a company after the first case appears. An employer’s Experience
Modification Rate (EMR) is calculated based upon both of these figures (number of claims and
severity of claims). This means that a COVID-19 situation in the workplace has the potential to
make a company’s EMR, as well as the corresponding insurance premiums, skyrocket. These
figures are kept on a company’s record for a total of three years, thus impacting the ability to
bid and receive work long term.
When thinking about the legal implications of COVID-19, employers should consider the
regulatory requirements outlined by various parties. A few of the regulatory agencies most
pertinent to the construction industry, as well the standards which apply to the COVID-19
pandemic, are outlined below:
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
Due to COVID-19’s impact on global supply chains, it is likely that the spread of the virus will
result in delays and cost overruns in the construction industry. China, one of the world’s largest
exporters of building materials, is currently experiencing a 17.2% decline in exports. The party
that bears the risk and the losses resulting from construction delays and increased costs
associated with materials shortages will be dictated by contract. Contractors would be wise to
review contracts currently underway and consider making revisions to contracts soon
The data surrounding coronavirus spread in the United States is staggering, and the Center for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) are
encouraging continued adjustments and accommodations in the work setting. As business
leaders, it is important to consider all categories noted above while navigating this chaotic
period. The importance of emergency action planning, business continuity, and remote
work/alternate revenue sources cannot be over stressed.
- Julia Kunlo, Certified Safety Professional (CSP), Vice President of Evolution Safety Resources
- Ashley L. Felton, Senior Counsel, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
- Adam P. Banks, Senior Counsel, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
New ANSI A92 standards for Mobile Elevating Work Platforms, which were supposed to go into effect on March 1, have been pushed back. The new effective date is June 1.