COVID-19 is disrupting lives and businesses, including those associated with construction projects. While researchers have much to learn about COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that this virus spreads between people who are in close contact with one another and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The symptoms do not appear for two to fourteen days (or more) after exposure. A person may contract COVID-19 by touching an infected surface and then touching his mouth, nose, or eyes. A study prepared by the University of California – Los Angeles found that the virus can be detected for up to three hours in aerosols, four hours on copper, twenty-four hours on cardboard, and two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. This means that active construction sites pose significant risk.
While Presidential Policy Directive 11 (PPD-21) does not designate construction as an essential service, many states that have issued stay-at-home orders. However, even those states deem at least some types of construction projects as essential businesses. Design professionals involved in on-going projects must adopt and take a leadership role regarding COVID-19 health safety. There is an opportunity for forward-thinking firms to provide a service relating to health safety.
Remote Progress Meetings
Propose to the project owner and contractor that whenever possible, construction meetings be conducted by telephone or video conferencing and facilitate those meetings. If you have not been using a video-conferencing platform, sign up for Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other program and learn to use it immediately. Require construction personnel on site to take photographs or videos of progress or of areas of concern to be discussed during meetings. If your firm owns and has utilized drone technology, now is the time to propose using that technology to reduce the need for non-essential personnel to visit the site.
Design Firm Policies for Site Visits
Some design firms must continue to provide CA services, some including on-call or full-time services. If your firm has not done so yet, adopt a policy that addresses site health safety immediately. Review all federal guidelines and review any current state guidelines. They are constantly evolving. Your policy should include, at a minimum:
- A mandate that your staff not visit a construction site if they are not feeling well, if they have travelled outside of the U.S. or if they have been around someone that is infected. They should not be in your offices either.
- A requirement to stand at least six feet from others whenever possible.
- If a lift or elevator must be used, require staff to use it in the smallest groups feasible.
- Advice not to touch equipment or tools unless necessary and then only when wearing gloves.
- If your firm uses testing equipment, require that it be wiped down with a household cleaner after every use.
- If your firm provides trucks or other vehicles for technicians or other staff to use to drive to a site, require that it be wiped down with household cleaners after every use.
- If your staff uses a company camera, require that it be wiped down upon return to the office.
- Staff returning to the office should be required to wash hands immediately upon reentry into your building, even if they washed their hands while on site.
- A directive not to shake hands with people at the site.
- A requirement to keep the members of any group on site to the minimum absolutely needed for business. This is not the time to meet with the project manager and five assistant project managers and three superintendents, unless unavoidable.
- A requirement to be vigilant about touching anything on site.
- After visiting the site, a mandate to wash hands for at least twenty seconds. Provide hand sanitizer that contains sixty to ninety-five percent alcohol in case there is no water on site for hand washing.
- Ask staff to notify a designee at your company of needed supplies (like soap, sanitizer, gloves, paper towels etc.) or when supplies are getting low so that you do not run out unexpectedly.
If the contractor has not adopted a health safety protocol, design professionals should demand that one be adopted immediately. If your staff must go to the site, they must adhere to that protocol and to any policy that your firm has adopted.
If you need legal advice concerning a design or construction issue, please contact the attorneys of Gibbes Burton, LLC at (864) 327-5000. We want to help make your projects a success.