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As we approach the three-month milestone since the official restart of construction in NYC, it is an appropriate time to observe how the construction industry has responded to the required workplace health changes and what contract changes may need to be addressed in the future.

While the construction industry has always considered safety to be paramount, wider public health practices have been introduced and incorporated on job sites, enabling most to return to full operation.

Across the city, all participants in the construction process have been tasked with reconsidering all aspects of their daily activities. The need to move adequate tradespeople and materials vertically throughout the job has led to the introduction of staggered starts to allow for social distancing compliance not only within the hoist, but in wait areas at grade and on landing areas throughout the site.

Increased job site hygiene, as well as enhanced health screening requirements and the recording of all individuals on-site, have been embraced by an industry that has always adapted to continue through times of adversity.

“Our role as project managers is to bring together our general contractors, subcontractors and design team to work with the Department of Buildings and other agencies to create and maintain a work environment that reassures all on-site that they can work safely and productively,” said Gavin Middleton, chief operating officer at leading New York City-based construction advisory Lehrer Cumming.

Keeping worker morale high by enforcing these strict health screenings and hygienic behavior requirements has also led to the mandatory sanitation of tools and machinery multiple times throughout the day. Creating environments where workers feel comfortable and safe, while still successfully navigating the ever-changing material and scheduling disruptions, is what has allowed many of NYC’s building sites to approach the same level of productivity today as it was before the shutdown.

“The future of our industry is dependent on keeping workers safe and healthy to enable work to move forward,” Middleton added, “and we have seen project teams rally behind each other knowing that smart behaviors and strong job site leadership will lead to success.”

As new health mandates have made visible changes to the daily operations of job sites, contract language for future construction agreements is also expected to adapt to better articulate how pandemic-related events should be equitably resolved.

One thing has become clear: The standard force majeure clause will be revisited for future agreements.

Navigating fair schedule extensions on behalf of building owners and deciding — in an equitable manner — who bears the costs associated with off-site material storage, PPE needs and ongoing site sanitation, are just a small number of the questions that the industry requires project leadership to address and resolve.

“The ongoing costs being incurred in terms of the requirements imposed by the government for reopening are significant, and the lessons learned from these unprecedented times will significantly change how we all manage projects in the future,” Middleton said.

Staying on top of the latest health guidelines, and quickly adapting to the constant changes has become vital for those overseeing NYC’s most successful large-scale developments. Project leadership should now, more than ever, be working hand-in-hand with legal and health experts well-versed in the construction industry to make sure all parties involved are safe and fairly covered.

This will help morale stay high while enabling NYC to continue serving as a global development role model for years to come.

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