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State of the Construction Industry: August 2021 Roundup
August re-highlighted a number of construction industry challenges, from a resurgent pandemic, to natural disasters to mental health. Here’s a look at a number of those stories and more we followed over the past month.
COVID Wreaking Havoc on Construction Again
Though it looked for a moment as if we might enjoy a reprieve from the COVID pandemic as vaccines were delivered, the powerful new Delta variant and loosening of restrictions led to a new surge in cases nationwide. In response, many areas are reimplementing restrictions ranging from mask mandates to lockdowns.
The surge in COVID cases is also affecting construction work. Projects around the United States are being impacted by worker shortages, soaring construction material costs, delays, or even outright stoppages. A couple of examples include the halting of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Camino del Rio project in Durango and scaled back construction plans for a new high school in Ascension Parish, La.
Mask mandates, one of the most common forms of protective restrictions that federal, state and local governments (as well as private businesses) can enact, have been met with significant backlash. Some contractors have enacted their own mask, testing or vaccination mandates, or followed CDC or other regional health guidelines. But others — like the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota — are lobbying against, arguing that measures like mandatory vaccines for all construction jobsite workers would “change the terms of construction contracts,” resulting in higher costs and project delays.
The pandemic has greatly impacted national trade and supply chains for contractors worldwide, which has led to significantly higher material costs that contractors are having to endure. Additionally, trade tariffs put in place during the previous administration, are affecting material supplies and pricing. The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) is calling for an end to those tariffs to provide some needed relief.
The Takeaway: Yet again, the construction industry is having to endure painful and costly challenges brought on by the pandemic’s continued presence. And it doesn’t look like these challenges are going to go away anytime soon. Contractors are going to have to get leaner in their operations to maintain cash flow and try and grow profit margins during these difficult times. With already existing labor shortages and other industry challenges, the best way to reduce costs is actually to modernize software systems and workflows. Investing in a connected, cloud-based construction management system can reduce costly IT overhead, streamline productivity on jobsites and in the back office and provide stronger, real-time data to reduce in-the-field building errors and material waste.
Haiti Earthquake, Hurricane Ida Highlight Construction Needs and Wins
Mother Nature was active in August, with a magnitude 7.2 earthquake affecting the island nation of Haiti and the start of hurricane season with the Category 4 Hurricane Ida pummeling the Gulf Coast. Both events caused significant damage and prompted emergency construction services work for the affected areas, ranging from excavation and floodwater control to new buildings for healthcare, crisis services and other needs.
The group Build Health International, for instance, mobilized a team of engineers, electricians and technicians and is “sending U.S.-based logistics specialists to clinics and hospitals across Haiti's southern peninsula, where they will further assess damage, evaluate safety and coordinate immediate repairs to ensure that patients can receive treatment as quickly as possible,” according to Construction Dive.
On a good note, Construction Dive also noted that the levee systems in and around the New Orleans area held up well during Hurricane Ida, following a $14.5 billion upgrade in the wake of 2005’s disastrous Hurricane Katrina.
The Takeaway: Regarding the levees, this is proof in the pudding that sound investment in our nation’s infrastructure can pay long-lasting dividends. Instead of massive flooding, destruction and hundreds of deaths, the Louisiana Gulf Coast endured a hurricane roughly the same size and strength of Katrina with less destruction and casualties. Still, between hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, heat waves, fires, flooding and other forces of nature, its piling onto the list of challenges we all have to face, and for contractors, these emergency situations are stretching their resources even thinner. It’s yet another reason to modernize in order to be able to respond quickly and keep business running effectively.
Another 3D Printing Construction Feat
Touted as the largest structure built in North America to date using 3D printing, the Texas Military Department and Austin-based construction technology company ICON announced the completion of a 72-person military barracks. Built with ICON’s Vulcan Construction Technology, the 3D printed building is a 3,800 square foot facility will house soldiers while they train for missions in Texas or overseas marking these the first soldiers in the world to live in 3D-printed barracks. ICON also constructed its House Zero, a 2,000-square-foot home that the company has used to demonstrate the resiliency and sustainability of its 3D printed structures.
The Takeaway: 3D printing is taking off in construction, providing a building alternative that is often quicker, more cost effective and easier to control than traditional building processes. It’s just another example of how innovation is transforming the construction industry, and a reminder that staying competitive will require adoption of more modern technologies and workflows.
September’s Suicide Prevention Safety Stand-Down
Though slated for the week of Sept. 6-10, the Suicide Prevention Safety Stand-Down, which aims to address mental health issues throughout the construction industry, has been significantly touted in August. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) formed a task force of industry partners, unions and educators to raise awareness of the types of stress that can push construction workers into depression and toward suicide. The task force is calling on the industry to take part in a weeklong Suicide Prevention Safety Stand-Down to raise awareness about the unique challenges construction workers face. The stand-down will coincide with National Suicide Prevention Month in September.
The Takeaway: Addressing mental health and suicide prevention in construction has been one of the industry’s largest initiatives in recent years. Construction workers face among highest suicide and opioid addiction rates of any profession, and anything that can help curb these numbers is greatly welcomed. It all starts with education and awareness.