As I sit here today, telecommuting from my home to help flatten the coronavirus curve, the whole situation is still surreal. My heart goes out to those directly impacted by the virus and their families. My heart is heavy for those businesses forced to close and employees whose livelihoods have been adversely impacted by the effects of the coronavirus on our community, country and the world. Yet, my heart is full of gratitude for the first responders and medical staff who put their wellbeing on the line to keep us all safe and healthy. They are America at its best.
The Gulf Coast Builders Exchange is a local Trade Association representing Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties. Our priority has always been and always will be the local economy. Once we are past this crisis (AND WE WILL GET PAST THIS!), supporting local businesses and the local economy will be more important than ever! In the meantime, we need to keep open and functioning whatever segments of the economy that can be kept open safely, with workers’ health being the first and foremost consideration.
That is why we have spoken to County Commissioners and written to Governor DeSantis, Congressman Buchanan and Congressman Steube to help stabilize the construction industry in the near term, by asking them to designate commercial construction as an “essential infrastructure business” in Florida.
When making this request, we encouraged them to consider four main factors:
• Recognize that construction is essential and should be allowed to continue under any potential remain-in-place order;
• Government functions related to the building and development process, such as inspections, permitting and plan review services can be modified to protect the public health, but fundamentally should continue and serve the construction industry (For example, allow qualified private third-party inspections in case of government shutdown.);
• Suppliers necessary to serve the construction, repair and maintenance should be allowed to operate;
• Those working in building trades must be allowed to continue operating businesses.
The construction industry continues to adhere to public health guidelines set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
According to OSHA, “Lower exposure risk (caution) jobs are those that do not require contact with people known to be, or suspected of being, infected with SARS-CoV-2 nor frequent close contact with (i.e., within 6 feet of) the general public. Workers in this category have minimal occupational contact with the public and other coworkers.”
A large majority of, if not all, land development and commercial construction job tasks fall within OSHA’s Lower Exposure Risk jobs. Obviously, working on new commercial construction sites occurs primarily outdoors and does not involve going onto a location occupied by residents or a public location, and there is minimal (if any) physical or transactional contact with customers compared to other customer/client relationships. We understand any construction projects at nursing homes are not low risk and have already ceased.
Commercial contracting is highly regulated and therefore cannot occur without support from the locality where it occurs. Builders require governmental approvals and permits to begin a project and they are needed through project completion. Therefore, governmental inspections occur along the entire process, from land development to final certificate of occupancy.
As part of the essential infrastructure, commercial construction requires that government building and zoning departments continue to operate, and they have been. The government employees in these positions have been going above and beyond in their roles and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
The inspection process has benefited from modifications. For example, when possible, inspectors are working “off hours” to minimize any contact with the construction team. They are making other arrangements with the owner or general contractor to safeguard their health by ensuring nobody will be on site during an inspection. Furthermore, certain localities use third-party engineers to sign off on inspections. These innovations may be one of the silver linings to come out of this crisis.
Construction is currently one of Florida’s major economic staples. Keeping the men and women of the industry building must be a priority. If construction is disrupted, it creates a domino effect leading to dire negative economic repercussions for an already-burdened economy. Keeping the construction industry going during this time, keeps people employed and supports families who support local businesses and, in the end, will help our community to bounce back stronger and better than ever.