Alexandra McManus and Hussein Cholkamy | Construction Executive
On any given day, there are a multitude of variables playing out on construction jobsites, from maintaining daily logs to track hundreds of workers to creating daily schedules to keep projects on track. What made an industry that’s arguably about 20 years in the past get a dramatic technology boost five years into the future? A global pandemic that nobody saw coming.
When COVID-19 made its first appearance on construction sites in early 2020, the domino effect of project shutdowns and labor shortages created uncertainty along with budget and timeline nightmares. The pandemic shook up the industry, with many projects coming to a screeching halt. As general contractors scrambled to keep their projects moving and workers safe, technology proved to be the solution.
With jobsites shutting down, coupled with a nationwide labor shortage, real-time visibility over workforce variables, such as who was on-site, where they were and who they interacted with was more important than ever. Safe proximity tracking, virtual density and access control technologies helped construction companies gain more control, visibility and the ability to deal with the ever-changing regulations due to the global pandemic. More importantly, it helped keep their valuable workforce safe.
TECHNOLOGY JUST MAKES SENSE
On a busy jobsite with hundreds of people coming and going every day, technology became the friend general contractors could trust in times of uncertainty. Contractors began to rely more on virtual meetings, chat sessions and texts and text reporting of issues. Many experimented with wearables for workforce tracking.
The focus on safety went beyond tool safety and OSHA’s fatal four to focus on worker health and who they may have come into contact with and where. This level of workforce visibility provided a better understanding of what was happening on a jobsite and enabled more accurate safety reporting.
Projects with tracking technologies in place, such as hospitals and data centers, were able to resume construction because of their ability to quickly adapt to uncertain COVID-19 restrictions.
Contractors using safe proximity tracking and access control solutions could manage daily logs and compliance digitally. As projects that were delayed due to the pandemic resume, there will be an extremely busy summer construction season. Tracking labor efficiency and safety concerns will be crucial to operate efficiently and react to emergencies.
BETTER PREPARED FOR WHAT’S NEXT
Since the pandemic, the construction industry is better prepared to develop response plans to a crisis. However, the pandemic has exposed weaknesses. Expect to see hybrid forms of construction and manufacturing where repeatable volumetric solutions become the norm. As schedule pressures increase against a constricted labor market, modularization is gaining popularity.
Companies across the globe increased their adoption new tech solutions and rolled out new processes due to the availability of software, robotics, digitization and wearables. As the construction industry adjusts to the new normal, its future depends on what construction companies and their teams do next. The domino effect of projects that shut down in 2020 resuming work in addition to new projects means contractors will have to manage workers, keep them safe and avoid labor shortages. The adoption and acceptance of technology will help. As technologies continue to evolve, new solutions will become available to help the construction industry keep building more efficiently, safer and smarter lightyears into the future.
TIMELINE OF COVID-19 CASES ON CONSTRUCTION JOBSITES
Throughout 2020, many cases of COVID-19 were reported on construction sites across the U.S. Many of which resulted in shut downs of job sites for cleaning and testing. Some of the most notable reports included:
At least two clusters of COVID-19 cases involving seven workers were reported at the Kansas City Donnelly College construction site, which had to be completely shut down for disinfecting after each outbreak.
38 workers on a Charlotte, North Carolina apartment tower construction site tested positive for COVID-19. The entire project was temporarily shut down for deep cleaning and sterilization of the site.
A COVID-19 outbreak at the Denver International Airport jobsite affected 14 workers from an insulation company. The entire site was closed for several days to clean and disinfect.
At the $106 million renovation of the University of Alabama’s football stadium in Tuscaloosa, workers tested positive for COVID-19 including the general contractor. The project was shut down for cleaning and testing before workers could return.
31 workers on the $2 billion NFL stadium site in Las Vegas tested positive for COVID-19. The infections were linked back to local electricians working on the site.
A $200 million Appalachian State University project had 36 subcontractors test positive for COVID-19.
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans was undergoing a four-year, $450 million facelift. The general contractor had to send 32 of the projects’ 275 daily workers home after they tested positive for COVID-19.
Construction at the Texas A&M College campus was shut down for four days for disinfection after a COVID-19 outbreak among 55 workers and subcontractors.
At the $4.1 billion Salt Lake City International Airport construction site, 75 workers tested positive for COVID-19
One indoor pre-construction meeting for a healthcare project in Portland, Oregon led to an outbreak among 13 employees.