By John Schneidawind, vice president of public affairs, ARTBA
ARTBA member firms and chapter affiliates are quickly adapting to doing business during the coronavirus pandemic. Protecting the safety of employees and the public is a top priority that hasn’t changed.
Kansas City, Missouri-based design firm HNTB established a COVID-19 Task Force to gather information, monitor developments and update its leadership on the impacts coronavirus has on employees, clients, and the industry.
To support social distancing, HNTB employees are encouraged to work from home using the firm’s networked virtual technology. HNTB offices do remain open so employees can access equipment and needed materials. Business travel has been restricted to only cases where it is required by a client.
WSP has developed a comprehensive “COVID-19 Playbook” and field work guidance for employees with business continuity protocols and safety information, said Chief Development Officer Denise Roth. As more staff works remotely, as mandated, the company says it’s taking appropriate steps to ensure project confidentiality and protect all sensitive information.
Only a few dozen of HCSS’s 370 employees are working from the construction industry software company’s Sugarland, Texas, headquarters, said President and CFO Steve McGough, ARTBA’s 2020 chairman. “Most of our customers are working their projects in the field but many are working office staff from home,” he said.
At Duit Construction Co. Inc., in Edmund, Oklahoma, in-house counsel Jeff Taylor has adopted the practice of writing down the protocols the company is adopting as it moves through the crisis so it is prepared for what might happen next, or when a similar crisis occurs.
Taylor said Duit is restricting entry by third parties to its construction site job trailers, and making sure that meetings are conducted outside, with appropriate distances between participants. Employees will be told to stay home if they show symptoms, and co-workers at a specific site or office will be notified in the event of a positive test for COVID-19.
Almost all of Duit’s clients are in Oklahoma, and so far none of its projects have been cancelled or delayed because of the pandemic.
Some ARTBA member firms are also helping meet the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis with important work beyond their usual transportation design and construction activities. Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., for example, is working with other partners on an open-source design for intensive care units using repurposed shipping containers. Skanska spent eight days dredging the berth for the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort at New York City.
Florida has not cancelled any transportation projects, said Ananth Prasad, president of the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association Inc. He has been talking with state transportation officials about expanding work hours since traffic is so light on the state’s roadways.
Prasad noted that at this time of year, most road construction is done in open areas with workers frequently further away from each other than the 6-foot spacing suggested by health authorities. “We’re already socially distant,” he said.
The situation is similar in Ohio, according to Chris Runyon, president of the Ohio Contractors Association. He is also talking to state transportation officials about potentially speeding up roadway projects because of reduced traffic volumes.
One concern Runyon has is if materials shortages develop because of disruptions in global supply chains, but he has not yet seen that.
ARTBA’s state-by-state compilation of transportation construction projects is found at https://www.artba.org/coronavirus/. The regularly updated webpage also includes other member firm updates and links to key government agencies.