construction sites

Construction Sites During Covid-19

KEEPING AN EYE ON THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CONSTRUCTION SITE VISITS DURING COVID-19

COVID-19 as well as the volatile economic market has affected the design and construction industry as a whole and may have affected your professional and contractual obligations. Among the obligations that may be impacted are the professional services you provide which may include construction site visits.

Shut down of construction activities, travel restrictions, and other factors may make construction site visits and observations more challenging and more of a concern. But there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Read Your Contract and Refresh Your Memory

It is important to refresh your memory regarding contractual requirements for all phases of professional services including contract administration and construction site visits and observations. This includes refreshing your memory regarding your obligations but also reading the general conditions to refresh your memory regarding the contractor’s obligations.

Construction Site Safety Remains the Responsibility of the Contractor

Construction site safety should remain the responsibility of the contractor. Care should be taken to avoid any behavior or modification of the contract to change this. Design professionals visiting the site should follow the instructions/restrictions that may now be in place regarding COVID-19. You may wish to document what the current instructions are and your compliance with them. If the design professional believes in their professional judgment, that the contractor is not following proper guidelines and established safety procedures regarding COVID-19 (or any safety issue) which might result in imminent harm, the design professional should document those concerns and inform the client of their professional concerns as to their own safety and advise they will not return until the concern is addressed.

Design professionals should take steps to properly inform their staff before visiting a site regarding any new procedures established by the contractor and should check the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Occupation, Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and local health officials regarding any special requirements/procedures for construction site visits (i.e. special mask, gloves, outer protection gear, etc. to name a few possibilities). This should be in addition to any requirements the contractor may have in place. It is also important to follow CDC, OSHA, and local health official’s requirements/guidelines for post construction site visits (i.e. disposal/disinfecting of garments and/or equipment used during the visit).

Can’t Visit the Construction Site?

Design professionals who are unable to fulfill their professional and contractual obligations for construction site visits and observations (or any professional or contractual obligation) due to COVID-19 should inform their client immediately and document that communication.

“Shut down of construction activities, travel restrictions, and other factors may make construction site visits and observations more challenging and more of a concern.”

If site visits are not feasible due to travel restrictions (i.e. the firm is in a location that does not permit travel but the project is in another location where construction activities continue), design professionals should inform their client of the limitations and discuss options such as:

  1. Having the contractor photograph/video what the design professional would have observed on a visit.
  2. Retaining the services of another design professional that is local to the construction site to perform construction site visits.
  3. Using technology such as remote-controlled drones to conduct a virtual site visit.

It is important to discuss with the client the pros/cons, risk, limitations, and potential additional time and cost of each option and document that conversation and how the client directs the design professional to proceed. Any site visit report should clearly confirm how the visit took place and that it is in line with the prior determination as to the alternative method being used.

If construction site visits are not feasible because the local authorities have directed all construction activities to stop, inform the client and cite the authority stopping construction activities and document that conversation. Evaluate how construction may impact both the design and construction schedules and inform the client and document that conversation.

Don’t Assume Responsibility for Construction Site Safety

Design professionals, as always, needs to remain mindful that their actions do not expand or alter their scope or obligations for construction site visits. OSHA considerations or other governmental requirements may be changing relative to COVID-19, but it is the contractor’s obligation to modify the site safety plan to address that, not the design professional’s.