This week the Army Corps of Engineers will begin construction of temporary hospitals in New York. Supplies and materials have already arrived at Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Center, which could be completely turned into a medical facility in seven to 10 days. The convention center will have four 250-bed federal hospitals on the main showroom floor. There is also a possibility that space for 1,000 additional beds for medical staff would be needed.
Temporary hospitals will also be set up at three other locations: Westchester County Center, SUNY Stony Brook, and SUNY Old Westbury. These four locations were chosen from a longlist of possible sites because of space requirements and the ability to transform the locations quickly.
After input from the Associated General Contractors of America, OSHA has revised its coronavirus reporting requirements. According to the AGC, here are the current requirements:
OSHA recordkeeping requirements at 29 CFR Part 1904 mandate covered employers record certain work-related injuries and illnesses on their OSHA 300 log.
COVID-19 can be a recordable illness if a worker is infected as a result of performing their work-related duties. However, employers are only responsible for recording cases of COVID-19 if all of the following are met:
- The case is a confirmed case of COVID-19 (see CDC information on persons under investigation and presumptive positive and laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19);
- The case is work-related, as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5; and
- The case involves one or more of the general recording criteria set forth in 29 CFR 1904.7 (e.g. medical treatment beyond first-aid, days away from work).
According to OSHA standards and directives, there is nothing specific to coronavirus in its guidelines, but the following were cited as some that may be relevant to helping with the spread:
- OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards (in general industry, 29 CFR 1910 Subpart I), which require using gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection.
- When respirators are necessary to protect workers, employers must implement a comprehensive respiratory protection program in accordance with the Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134).
o OSHA has issued temporary guidance related to enforcement of respirator annual fit-testing requirements for healthcare.
Bergen County executive Jim Tedesco is rescinding his order to halt all construction and utility work and shutdown of most retail activity in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The order, which was to go into effect on Saturday morning, is being rescinded at the request of NJ governor Phil Murphy, according to Tedesco. The Association Construction Contractors of New Jersey opposed the original order and were pursuing legal options.
As of 9 a.m. Tuesday March 17
For most companies in the construction industry, it remains business as usual with bid openings and construction continuing, states are stepping in to suspend some projects as part of the extraordinary measures being taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is suspending all construction projects through March 30, but PennDOT crews will be available for “critical functions and emergency maintenance.”
In Bergen County, NJ, county executive Jim Tedesco ordered all construction suspended and utility roadwork done only in emergency situations. It remains to be seen if this is enforceable or companies will follow Tedesco’s order or fight it.
But while non-emergency construction was being suspended in some places, the governors of New York and New Jersey are looking to turn college dorms, former nursing homes and other buildings into medical facilities to treat patients as hospitals are expected to be overwhelmed. Private developers, construction workers, and the National Guard are expected to be needed for these emergency projects. The plan is currently a backup in case the federal government does not meet his request to send the Army Corps of Engineers to build temporary hospitals.
Before state and local governments began enacting these more extreme measures to “flatten the curve” of the spread of the disease and its impact on hospitals, there have been reports of specific sites across the country shutting down after a worker tested positive and companies taking precautions to keep workers safe.
The Associated General Contractors has a webpage dedicated to the virus with information about symptoms and what constitutes a reportable workplace illness. “AGC will continue to monitor the situation and update the information on this page accordingly,” the site said.
Over the weekend, the Centers for Disease Control recommended no groups with more than 50 people for approximately eight weeks.
The impact of the coronavirus will likely be felt in every industry, and while the extent of the impact is unknown as the situation evolves quickly around the world, construction was already taking a hit.
Before the public became aware of people testing positive in the United States, a slowdown in the production of supplies in China was already raising costs. U.S. construction companies import about 30 percent of their building products from China. It is the largest importer of construction materials to the U.S. As the Chinese government shut down factories, a manufacturing decline was already creating supply issues and driving up prices for American companies.
Now, the crisis has hit the U.S. and there is further uncertainty in an industry that was already getting mixed messages.
The U.S. Construction Outlook report for 2020 put out by commercial real estate and development firm Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. reported that industry volume and hiring would be flat this year. It also predicted growth for companies that work for the government on projects related to schools, healthcare, and transportation. That report was released last week.
At this point, there is no way to predict the construction man-hours that might be lost to illness or what the brewing economic crisis, caused in part by the global pandemic, might do to future projects. The situation seems to change by the hour and right now industry professionals can only have a plan for the possible effects and wait and see.