Managing a Coronavirus-Related Project Shutdown

Proper shutdown ensures a smooth re-startRevised from NSPE, Edited by Dr. Jesse A. Grantham, PE, Principal - Forensic Expert

When a hurricane or other disaster forces the closing of a jobsite, owners and contractors can be reasonably assured that, barring severe physical property damage, everyone will be back to work in a short while.

However, the Coronavirus pandemic has led contractors, material suppliers and industry vendors into uncharted waters. Construction companies, for example, in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville Massachusetts and to some degree, Pennsylvania, San Francisco, Austin TX and Travis County, TX, either are unsure about which projects must be closed or are looking at the duration of a moratorium. Consider that: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday morning announced that construction is "nonessential" work, effectively shutting down most projects statewide.

Safely shutting down the equipment now, will allow it to be ready when work resumesCompanies have been forced to shut down 90% of their projects in cities where construction has been banned. For the first time in four years. For example, a local electrical union’s membership is not fully employed, rather, 60% to 70% are unemployed.

As contractors and subcontractors around the country are forced to leave their sites quickly there are some things to keep in mind. Projects involve a general contractor who is ultimately responsible for making sure the project is shut down in a safe and responsible manner.

This means making sure that the physical site is secured. Several of those measures are:

  • Strapping or otherwise securing material so that it does not fall or become displaced, potentially sustaining damage or causing harm to anyone visiting the site or, in some cases, remaining on the project.
  • Locking away any tools and equipment that will not be moved.
  • Securing welding machines and consumables that may get damaged by inclement weather or stolen.
  • Making sure the entire project is secured by the appropriate locked fence.
  • Removing or locking away electronics, laptops and other devices.
  • Covering or barricading all open excavation and trenches.
  • Securing and locking all heavy equipment.
  • Posting appropriate warning or caution signs.
  • Installing a surveillance system and/or hiring security to patrol the site on a regular basis.
  • Turn off generators that were providing temporary power and eliminate access via padlocked doors.
  • Remove tow-behind equipment and store securely at ground level.
  • Shut down tower cranes, and place in weathervane mode as recommended by the manufacturer, while ensuring FAA safety lights remain operational.

General contractors may find it necessary to take extra precautions to keep the site as contagion-free as possible during this time.While many general contractors have emergency shutdown preparedness protocols in place,the coronavirus outbreak is an unprecedented circumstance that will necessitate additional steps, such as sanitation and increased worker health precautions.

At the time that any moratorium on construction work went into effect, there may have beenmany working on projects daily. Although no one knows when work will resume, each subcontractor will also have duties to complete before wrapping up work.Crews may have to perform additional work to make sure the site is safe. This work included making sure that exit signs and temporary lighting was operational so that security personnel will be safe as they walk the project. Temporary fans may need to be installed so that moisture doesn’t gather on newly installed electrical equipment.

If a company had only had one or two projects there would may have been time to pull all tools and equipment off of these sites, but given the large volume of projects, many company’s property is placed under lock and key at each jobsite.

When work eventually resumes, the start-up will include more than business as usual.How we plan and execute work has absolutely changed in response to the Coronavirus. There is a greater emphasis on hygiene and mental health than ever before, and many additional steps are being taken to ensure jobsites remain sanitary.Upon their return, contractors can also expect work to be carried out according to local health agency rules and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which include a measure of social distancing for some time.

Some of the policies put in place in response to the Coronavirus pandemic could have positive long-term effects on construction as well.

“Significant changes in our industry often occur in response to a disruption or disturbance to the plan — whatever that plan may be — and how our industry responds makes us better at what we do.In this case, it will be in the increased focused on total human health."

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