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How COVID-19 Has Changed the Construction Industry

Posted by Paul Gross on Nov 25, 2020

“Construction workers are five times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than their peers in other professions, according to a new study from University of Texas at Austin researchers,” writes Dom DiFurio in The Dallas Morning News.

According to the article, researchers have studied five months of hospitalization data in Austin. They have discovered there is an increase in COVID-19 hospitalization rates associated with unrestricted construction work.

Additionally, about one-third of workers in the U.S. construction industry are Hispanic or Latino. The Latino population represents more than half of COVID-19 deaths in Texas. Part of that is due to the increased likelihood of more people residing in the same home. They may also have no choice but to go to work even if they are sick.

The report titled “COVID-19 in Austin, Texas: Epidemiological Assessment of Construction Work” indicates keeping construction sites open without implementing the recommended safety precautions may increase construction workers’ chances of hospitalization by eight-fold.

The research appears in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Network Open, which is a subsidiary of the highly reputable Journal of American Medical Association. The National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control supported the study.

How Does the COVID-19 Study Affect Construction Industry?

What does the study mean for the construction industry?

Does it mean construction work needs to stop? No. It’s a sign that the construction industry needs to take steps to protect construction workers. COVID-19 has forced the construction industry to refine its safety requirements and processes. This will not be temporary.

When the pandemic ends — and it will — these changes will remain in place. The coronavirus is not the only thing that is contagious. There are other contagious illnesses and maintaining these procedures will help reduce the likelihood of construction workers getting sick. Considering some go to work while sick, the new procedures will also lead to fewer times this happens.

The report reveals construction sites have “double the transmission risk of a typical workplace.” This is due to the nature of the job or the concentration of construction workers on construction sites.

The study looks at various scenarios of how COVID-19 affects the construction industry. These include the number of workers on a jobsite and contact intensity levels. Procedures can “mitigate but not eliminate the risk” and reduce the chances of transmission. This alone should be enough to convince construction companies to avoid becoming complacent about updating, implementing, and following safety protocols. Training is also a critical component of maintaining safety standards.

Does the Study only Apply to Austin, Texas?

You may be wondering if this only applies to Austin. No. It applies to other cities per “Study Finds Construction Safety Practices Are Essential to Protecting Workers, Community During Pandemic” by Jenn Goodman.

“The city of Austin is not alone in efforts to understand the risks that construction presents during the pandemic,” Goodman writes. “In many parts of the country, construction has been allowed to continue, though trade unions, workers and elected and health officials have raised concerns. Many have offered anecdotal evidence about the potential danger of keeping sites operational, but the university’s study is the first to quantify these risks, Adler told the Austin American-Statesman.”

The good news is that the worst-case scenario does not have to happen. When a construction company revises its safety guidelines and procedures, it can minimize the spread of the virus.

The Construction Industry Must Revise Safety Protocols

The CDC recommends all construction companies create, implement, and maintain a COVID-19 preparedness, response, and control plan. This outlines all the areas and tasks with potential exposure to the coronavirus. It also needs to list steps for eliminating or reducing exposure.

Ensure the practices cover the following:

  • Social distancing policies, such as staggering shifts and break times
  • Steps for employee self-monitoring for symptoms
  • Temperature checks when entering the construction site
  • Handwashing, sanitizing, and disinfecting policies for people, tools, equipment, and surfaces
  • Guidelines for contagious disease outbreak and response
  • Sick leave policies for when someone is contagious

The Associated General Contractors of America, an organization that represents contractors in the U.S. has released two documents of interest:

The recommended practices contain guidance for what contractors should do to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The protocols document covers what to do in the following scenarios:

  • Someone becomes sick
  • Someone has contact with a person who has COVID-19
  • Someone has an authorized quarantine
  • Someone has contact with another ordered to quarantine

Invite employees to contribute to the creation of the protocol. They will feel like they have a voice and a sense of ownership. In doing so, they’ll be more likely to follow the plan.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published guidelines on how construction workers can protect themselves while slowing the spread of COVID-19. Use these recommendations to revise your safety protocols to cover the coronavirus. Another useful reference is the interim guidance for businesses on COVID-19 for planning, preparing, and responding to the pandemic and any other contagious disease outbreak.

The Pandemic Demands Investing in Construction Technology

One of the biggest shifts as a result of the pandemic is the greater need for technology on construction sites. However, construction has been slow to adopt technology. In fact, an FMI report refers to “Digging for the Big Data Gold in Today’s Construction Projects” by Brian Hill. According to Hill, the engineering and construction industry uses only 5 percent of the data it captures.

It’s not news that the industry has lagged when it comes to construction technology. “Construction is falling behind in the innovation race” and the technology divide is part of the reason why the younger and older generations struggle to work together. As Baby Boomers retire in record numbers, the industry will most likely see sharp increases in technology adoptions.

One area that construction companies are seeing an uptick is in the use of cloud-based data management. “The Landscape of Construction IT Decision Makers,” a study from Cite Research, has found 75 percent of construction companies use cloud storage.

The advantage of having data in the cloud is that it can be accessed from anywhere using almost any connected device. A manager could be on the jobsite or working from home to reduce the number of people on the construction site.

Multiple Uses of Video Surveillance in Construction Technology

A technology worth exploring that offers many benefits is remote video surveillance. It makes it possible to remotely and safely monitor the jobsite to help increase safety and security.

Trained security operators monitor analytics-based cameras to watch over the site. As soon as a safety or security concern pops up on the camera, it alerts the operator who can act immediately. With eyes across the vast jobsite, cameras can spot potential hazards.

Remote video surveillance helps deter crime. The sight of cameras alone can drive away some potential intruders. For those that don’t scare easily, the operator can use the audio system to issue a warning. In some cases, it’s enough to send them running away from the construction site. This dissuades the trespassers as well as prevents damage.

Do you have construction site security guards or thinking about hiring them? You won’t need them when you implement remote video surveillance. The video surveillance system, complete with the equipment and monitoring, costs up to 60 percent less of what it would cost to pay security guards and their benefits. Remote operators can watch the entire site simultaneously. Something security guards can’t do.

Video surveillance can save and store all recordings in the cloud for later review and retrieval. This will be useful anytime you have a trespasser. The police can use it in their investigation of the incident.

An unexpected benefit of having the recordings is that it helps with cases regarding fraud and property liability on a construction site. If someone claims something happened on the construction site, analysts can review recordings for evidence of what really happened. The footage may quickly stop an expensive liability lawsuit.

After you implement the new safety protocols in response to the pandemic, you can use video monitoring to conduct training. For instance, the video can show employees how to properly disinfect equipment and tools.

The flexibility of video surveillance delivers a fast ROI for security because of all these benefits and more. It has the potential to lower your liability insurance premiums and other costs.

To learn more about video surveillance technology, download your free guide to securing your construction site. It’ll show you the advantages of a customized security plan for your construction site. If you’d like to learn more now or after reading the guide, contact us.