Small is Beautiful: Construction during COVID-19
With multiple massive construction projects going on around the state, we reached out to our EDCUtah Builders Circle investors in the industry to learn what they are doing to continue operations while maintaining safe working conditions in the age of COVID-19.
As in other industries, the goal is to limit the daily interaction of large numbers of people in the field or in the office. This means breaking work teams and interactions into smaller units (per CDC guidelines) to allow for social distancing while maintaining communication channels. In a word, small is beautiful!
All the executives we talked to stressed that the situation is fluid, and the companies are continuously evaluating and modifying the practices they are implementing.
The takeaway? All four companies have open positions at this time and note that operations continue, albeit with heightened care in light of federal, state, and local guidelines.
Slade Opheikens, president and CEO of R&O Construction, summarizes their approach: “We are modifying our office and jobsite best practices that not only incorporate the recommendations of the CDC but also incorporating a few best practices that can be implemented. We are all facing a shortage of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to help our field employees maintain a healthy workplace, therefore we are requesting unnecessary in-person meetings be eliminated and that our teams utilize conference calls and Go-To meetings. We are also limiting visitors in our job trailers and offices.
“I am also in communication with our nationwide peer group to see what best practices they are implementing” Slade continues. “This is a rapidly changing event with new requirements and restrictions coming out daily. Our priority is that all persons working on our jobsites will feel and be safe.
“I would like to recognize the efforts of the AGC (Associated General Contractors) and ABC (Associated Builders & Contractors) for helping us evaluate considerations we have never been faced with before, as well as identifying possible solutions to this quickly evolving challenge. Construction is being determined to be ‘essential’ in many states where other businesses are being shut down, and feel it is important that we act like it. I am speaking with other local general contractors as well to see what best practices they are considering. COVID 19 is one area we can and should all share our best practices on to keep our employees, our subs, and our clients healthy.”
Jeff Palmer, executive vice president of Layton Construction Company, concurs. “We are working diligently to continue to build critical buildings, while being mindful of the pandemic in our communities. We have specific protocols set up to ensure our site workers are being safe. Where required, we are closing sites as directed by local officials.
“As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread across the globe, we are following reports and guidance from the CDC and local authorities. We will continue to closely follow this dynamic situation to ensure safe operations,” Jeff says.
Big-D Construction CEO Rob Moore shared some details from a business continuity document they are developing to minimize exposure to associates, partners and the overall workforce. Here are a few of the actions to support this:
- Modify trade work crews. Crews should be broken down into small crews (5 to 10). Those crews should work and break only with each other throughout the day and not spend “close contact” time with others on site. Even those individuals within a crew should maintain social distancing to the extent possible.
- Assign specific crews to specific and limited areas of the jobsite. Minimize transition between areas of the project.
- Ensure large groups do not congregate at the job gates on the way in. Stagger start times if needed. Modify bus schedules to allow for social distancing on-board.
- Any required job-wide communications should be delivered via postings or through a tree of foremen, not through a job-wide meeting.
- Eliminate large communal break areas
- Eliminate job-wide meetings of any kind done in mass.
- Planning meetings such as daily “huddles” and or “foreman” meetings should be kept to the smallest number possible and should be held in spaces large enough to allow social distancing.
“For the most part we are in large spaces or outdoors, so spacing is achievable,” Rob says.
Doug Welling, Jacobsen Construction Company president & CEO, comments: “Health and safety are of the utmost importance to Jacobsen Construction, and because of that, our crews are instructed to work in groups of 10 or less, are practicing social distancing, holding web-based meetings and keeping their hands washed and sanitized. Additionally, workers are asked to stay home if they are sick or are showing any signs of coronavirus symptoms. We will continue to diligently follow the CDC guidelines for slowing the spread of the virus.”
Are the construction companies still hiring?
Rob from Big-D says, “The industry is short craftsmen at the airport, prison, Tyson Foods and other large projects…Construction could keep the pace of the economy going.”
Sheridan Bristow, talent acquisitions manager for Jacobsen, says, “Although hiring is somewhat slowed at this time, we are still continually working to identify top talent that will lead our company forward in the future. All interviews are being conducted as remote video interviews and that is working nicely. We had a few new employees start last week and have a couple more starting this week. We have changed our onboarding procedures to make sure we comply with CDC guidelines to keep our employees safe and will continue to adjust as things change.”
Slade from R&O says the company is looking for some project engineers.
Jeff from Layton says, “While we are moving forward with caution, Layton continues to have open positions that we need to be filled.”