Since the coronavirus outbreak hit the U.S., many in the industry have noticed a bright spot emerge from the crisis: a push toward more collaboration among stakeholders.
Competing general contractors are sharing information more than ever before, especially about ways to keep workers safe during the pandemic. They are posting photos, best practices and toolbox talks on their websites and sharing ideas on webinars and conference calls to offer solutions that can benefit the industry.
This collaboration has been central to the industry’s quick reaction to keeping sites healthy and operational in an unprecedented and fast-changing situation, according to Mike Benike, executive vice president at Rochester, Minnesota-based Benike Construction.
“It’s amazing that only little more than a month ago many construction sites did not have anything different in place and now the procedures are completely different and continuing to change every day,” he said during a recent COVID-19 webinar sponsored by Destination Medical Center, a public-private economic initiative in Rochester, Minnesota, that is overseeing $5.6 billion of growth centered around the Mayo Clinic.
Panelist Troy Blizzard, vice president of operations at Mortenson, said he's seen contractors in his Minneapolis market collaborate like never before.
“It’s absolutely been a theme of all this that we’re all in this together and we’ve got to share best practices, he said. "It’s all about ‘What are you doing and what have you seen to help business?’ in what is usually a very competitive environment.”
General contractors are working closely with owners, subs and suppliers to stay abreast of the latest developments and find solutions to shared problems, Rosendin Vice President of Safety Marty Rouse told Construction Dive.
When the U.S. outbreak started, Rosendin worked with several other subs and construction companies to devise a set of safety protocols for jobsites. The program, shaped by information from the National Electrical Contractors Association, includes guidelines for respirator usage, social distancing measures and what to expect from general contractors.
Rouse said a team approach to taking responsibility for fighting the epidemic on jobsites is crucial.
"We're all in this together," he said.
Associations promote collaboration
Associations have also filled a crucial role in promoting the collective good of the industry during the pandemic. For instance, within days of the coronavirus appearing in the U.S., safety staff at the Associated General Contractors of Washington State had prepared a toolbox talk with guidelines about how to keep workers and jobsites safe. After cases started appearing in New York state, the AGC chapter there quickly developed a three-part webinar series to help prepare its members for what was to come.
And, as states and other jurisdictions have issued a variety of sometimes conflicting mandates shutting down nonessential businesses, association staff have worked long hours to help decipher the orders and create guidance for their members, who need to know if they can continue work.
At the national level, building groups like the AGC and Associated Builders and Contractors have helped to educate their members on the impact of new federal stimulus legislation like the Paycheck Protection Program and the CARES Act.
Industry associations and trade unions have also helped push for collaborative solutions at the state and federal levels. For instance, in the case of OSHA’s recent COVID-19 requirements, several groups banded together to make their point heard. Also, representatives from national construction associations and trade unions are part of President Trump’s advisory group for reopening the American economy, which met for the first time last week.
And thousands of contractors participated in the AGC's national safety stand down earlier this month to educate workers on the precautions necessary to keep construction sites safe and workers healthy.
The value of these groups, which have always been focused on collaborative problem solving among members, is more important than ever, said Phil Thoden, president of the Austin, Texas, AGC chapter.
”When things are going fine people might take a group like that for granted but when they really need it they say ‘I get the value proposition now,’” he said.
Patrick Seeb, director of economic development for Destination Medical Center agreed, saying that industry collaboration is “probably one of the most impressive things coming out of this pandemic right now."