As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread across countries and industries, the commercial construction industry has found varied methods to adapt to changes in workforce, funding and supply chains. Yet those facing changes to their budgets and schedules still bear responsibility in ensuring possible recovery during what may be considered a force majeure event; acts of God, fires, floods and other natural disasters that are not within the control of the contractor. Project and construction managers need to not only adapt to the impacts of the current climate, but reconsider plans in order to help mitigate ongoing damages and delays.
Construction management thought leader, Jim Gallagher, Principal of Resolution Management Consultants, explains, “During this kind of emergency, each project team will need to make decisions about how to proceed based on whether they’re able to adhere to social distancing recommendations, get the equipment and supplies they need as scheduled, and maintain the funding they expected to receive to move forward. But it is incumbent on the contractor to properly document and capture these costs and time impacts to allow for recovery, should contracts permit.”
Gallagher offers four suggestions to contractors and other construction participants to better put themselves in a position to weather the changing parameters of the COVID-19 landscape:
1. Capture and record
Making a detailed record of a construction project’s progress when certain restrictions and quarantines are announced is essential in documenting the impact of the virus on coming change orders and potential disputes over damages down the line. It should also be noted that not all claims can be attributable to this particular event if they were underway or inevitable prior to the virus.
2. Plans in place to mitigate
Each project leadership team will make its own determination about continuing or halting work during this time, but all will face decisions about the impacts of COVID-19 on their existing plans and workers. This could mean staggering work schedules to reduce overlap of crews working together and developing back-up preparations in case people, equipment or supplies don’t arrive on site. While we can’t prepare for everything, we have to do our best to reduce the impact of the event.
3. Communicate with construction participants
This particular force majeure event is occurring over a long period of time and evolving on a daily basis. As prepared as your team may be, various factors can continue to alter costs and schedules. Keeping owners, designers, representatives, trades, suppliers, local governments and others on the same page can help to further stem the effects of the developing impacts of COVID-19.
4. Evaluate a return to normalcy
When work does eventually return to normal, we can’t presume that we will be back to where we were before the virus began. With the potential for people, equipment, and supplies to still be unavailable, construction partners need to be flexible and stagger plans to best accommodate others’ return to normalcy as well.
“Being prepared and being flexible are two of the best ways to navigate an ongoing force majeure event such as this one,” notes Gallagher. “Communication among construction partners is key to mitigating the impacts on costs and schedules, and putting the project in the best position to allow for recovery down the line.”