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CII and AGC Bring Together a Panel of Industry Leaders for COVID-19 Webinar

by: Jessica Hoover
The Construction Industry Institute (CII) and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) recently held a webinar called “Roundtable on Perspectives and Best Practices in Owner-Contractor Collaboration During COVID-19” to provide updates on a variety of industry topics concerning the virus. The panel for the webinar featured two CII owners, two AGC members, and two representatives from the insurance industry.

Speakers included Paul Burroughs, Director of the Project Management Office at Ontario Power Generation; Tommy Gay, Safety Director at Southern Air Inc.; William Hornback, CRIS, CSHM, CST, Risk Engineering Regional Manager - Construction South at The Zurich Services Corporation; Tim Kuykendall, Safety Director at The Beck Group; Clayton S. Shoup, CIH, CSP, AVP - Technical Director - Casualty Risk Engineering at Zurich North America; and Rich Wright, CIH, CSP, Director of the Office of Safety, Health, and Environmental Management at the Smithsonian Institution. The moderator was Mike Pappas, Ph.D., Associate Director for Deployment at CII.

The panel offered a range of perspectives and provided updates on the following topics: employee safety in the office, employee safety on the jobsite, owner-contractor collaboration, and the future of construction.

Employee Safety in the Office
At the beginning of the pandemic, all office employees (except those deemed critical) were working remotely at Southern Air Inc. and Zurich North America. According to Gay, employees of Southern Air began Phase 1 of reopening at the end of July, allowing up to 25 percent of the workforce to return.

“In preparation for this, we rolled out online training for all office employees to alert them of changes that were made for their health and safety,” Gay said. “These precautions included personal health screenings and illness reporting procedures; handwashing, cleaning, and disinfecting procedures; ionizing air purifiers that were placed in the air stream; face cover requirements; and room capacity limits to support social distancing, just to name a few.”

Shoup said that Zurich will begin reopening in September at the earliest and will allow 20 percent of the workforce to return. Some of the company’s precautions include removing shared equipment, reducing available work spaces, face cover requirements, and employee self-certification questions before coming in.

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Alternatively, Wright said that the Smithsonian Institution was already in Phase 1 to Phase 2 at the end of July, depending on both geographic location and amount of cases. The company had recently opened a national zoo and part of the Air and Space Museum to the public, while instituting precautions such as social distancing, face cover requirements, visitor restrictions, and the removal of interactive exhibits.

Employee Safety on the Jobsite
“From the construction side of things, we are in the risk business,” Kuykendall said. “Everything that we do typically involves identifying risks and mitigating those risks before people are exposed to those risks. Especially dealing with COVID, this was just another layer that we had to do to keep our people safe.”

Both Kuykendall and Wright said they viewed the new COVID-19 safety precautions as another aspect of construction risk management. For The Beck Group, they focused on screening using QR codes and temperature checks, along with cleaning high-touch areas and identifying projects that did not have adequate hand-washing facilities. The company has made it a practice for workers to wash their hands every hour. Kuykendall said employees can use QR codes for safety training information, along with The Beck Group also providing socially-distanced small group training. Other companies, like Zurich and Southern Air, have implemented the use of apps for jobsite safety training.

The Smithsonian Institution’s construction projects were deemed essential, so they kept the projects going from the beginning. In early April, a construction contractor reported the company’s first COVID-19 case, and Wright said they responded by instituting an addendum to the site safety health plan. The addendum required the contractor to appoint a COVID-19 Safety Officer, and focused on implementing new training and safety requirements.

“We required prevention and control measures, social distancing controls and mechanisms, cleaning and hygiene, daily screening for coming onto the workplace, face coverings, and COVID case detection and reporting guidelines,” Wright said. “After we implemented that, it took a little time, but we see a much better process now. When we do have a case there are less folks being quarantined, and the case count has definitely gone down through the implementation of the addendum to the site safety plan. It’s worked pretty well.”

Owner-Contractor Collaboration
Ontario Power Generation had a few contracts that were in the final stages of negotiation when COVID-19 started to ramp up back in March. Burroughs said that it raised concerns from both the owners and contractors about the costs and risks that could come with the virus.

“We had to sit down and really get a common understanding of those risks and additional measures that we thought were required to manage the risks. Then we developed solutions from there. In my mind, it’s a bit like the geotechnical risk, where you have some idea of the conditions, but you don’t really know what’s there until you get to the bottom of the excavation. … It just took good conversation and trying to be as fair as possible, looking at the success of the project as the key outcome.”

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Hornback said that The Zurich Services Corporation also had some concerns with cash flow and being able to “float the project.”

“It took going back to the owners and talking with contractors, owners, GCs, vendors, suppliers, everybody just collaboratively working to make sure that contract terms were still right,” Hornback said. “In some cases, GCs were hit pretty hard and owners seemed to fair pretty well, all things considered.”

The Future of Construction
The Zurich Services Corporation’s construction specialties team held a study in June about the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the future of the construction industry. According to Hornback, the study found that the industry will have more adaptability; integration of sunlight and fresh air; increased cross ventilation, air change rates, and air locks in buildings; increased number of data centers for virtual work and learning; development of healthy building standards; increased use of finished materials that are easily cleaned; and possibly building occupancies that are calculated with social distancing in mind, not just fire safety.

Gay added that he sees a better awareness of health in the future along with an increase in handwashing and sanitizing stations in construction sites.

“For too long there have been minimal to no abilities to wash or sanitize on some sites,” Gay said. “Areas that did have them did the bare minimum of what OSHA required. That just wasn’t enough in my opinion and most folks in the field would agree.”

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