Construction Industry Doing Well in Spite of Covid. – New Tracking Tools

This year has been filled with uncertainty and has significantly damaged many industries, but so far the construction industry seems to be doing well.  As we enter the fall of course, there is a lot of concern over whether these “decent” times will continue. 

By late March most of the country had instituted some kind of Shelter in Place order. In the weeks after that construction activity as tracked by worker hours had declined most in early April – down approximately 17% nationwide. The dip was relatively short-lived though and by the end of May worker hours had rebounded. As of August total worker hours were 2% higher than the first week of March. It’s as if there was no pandemic.

There has been a disparity between the types of construction companies that have been affected most. Smaller companies (<$20M) were hit with the largest declines while larger companies saw more modest dips. As time passed by those differences were still there but parity has nearly been reached among different sized companies so that now all of them appear to be about on par for where they were in early March before any lockdowns.

Of course as we approach winter there is concern about whether the industry will continue its resilience. August saw 16,000 jobs added to payrolls which is a good sign however non-residential jobs saw declines. Nonresidential and infrastructure jobs decreased by 11,000 according to the Associated General Contractors of America.

A majority of firms have reported delays or cancelations of projects even though surveys show that 52% of firms struggle to find craft workers.* So challenges to planning and uncertainty about the course of the pandemic has left much of the industry scratching their heads about what to do next.

Projections of future activity by PSMJ Resources’ forecast of proposed projects for architecture, engineering and construction companies saw a nearly 30% decline in backlogs indicating future slowdowns. 

The Architectural Billings Index, long a bellwether resource for construction, stood at 40 for the month of June. Any score below 50 indicates that architects see declining billings, but the 40 also held signs of hope since it was a definite improvement over May’s 32 index number.**

Fortunately, a variety of new forecasting tools have become available for the industry. The Associated General Contractors of America offers analysis and surveys and can be a go to resource but recently more private sector companies have offered high tech methods of tracking construction data in detailed ways that have never before been available. Companies like Procore, Multivista, OxBlue, Smarvid provide the industry with nearly real-time data. 

Hopefully the industry will continue the pattern set so far during the pandemic even as we enter a challenging fall when Covid cases have already started to rise again. With new tools and insights contractors have greater ability to anticipate necessary changes as conditions continue to be so unpredictable.

* https://www.agc.org/news/2020/09/02/coronavirus-has-caused-significant-construction-project-delays-and-cancellations-yet

** https://www.equipmentworld.com/construction-seems-ok-despite-economic-uncertainty-but-will-the-work-hold/

Using Scissor Lifts Safely

Scissor lifts have become an indispensable tool for use on job sites as well as public and private venues where a reliable elevated platform is needed. Their efficiency over ladders and scaffolding make scissor lifts a superior choice for many contractors. However, when used improperly or recklessly they can cause serious accidents and injuries.

Over a one-year period, OSHA investigated ten preventable fatalities and more than 20 preventable injuries resulting from a variety of incidents involving scissor lifts. OSHA’s investigations found that most injuries and fatalities involving scissor lifts were the result of employers not addressing: Fall Protection; Stabilization; Positioning *

Fall Protection

Scissor lifts are required to have guard rails to prevent workers from falls. Those operators or occupants should check the guardrail before working on it. They should only stand on the platform, not the rails and keep work within a manageable reach. 

One untrained operator of a scissor lift was killed in 2020 when attempting to film a football game. He had extended the lift over 39 feet while wind was gusting up to 50 mph. The winds blew the lift over and killed him.*

Stabilization

Stability is of the utmost importance to the safe use of a scissor lift. Manufacturer’s recommendations for safe movement are vital. This most often excludes moving the lift while it’s elevated. Level surfaces are essential, and avoiding use in poor weather is advised. Be sure that vehicles are prevented from coming close to the scissor lift. Tip-overs can happen in the blink of an eye.

Collapse of a scissor lift is rare but it is still very important to heed load limits. Also never bypass safety mechanisms or raise the platform with another machine – like a forklift. 

Positioning

Operators must be careful to position the scissor lift in a way that avoids risk of electrocution, 

thermal, burns or arc flashes. Avoid positioning near power lines, electrocution can happen without direct physical contact. 

Scissor lifts also present similar hazards to other kinds of vehicles including crushing hazards or impact hazards. Care needs to be taken when moving underneath a fixed object.

Training

Of course the best way to ensure safe scissor lift usage is to make sure operators are trained to the current standards on the particular equipment they are using. 

Operators should do a pre-start Inspection before each use. That includes inspection of:

Vehicle components

  • Proper fluid levels (oil, hydraulic, fuel and coolant);
  • Leaks of fluids;
  • Wheels and tires;
  • Battery and charger;
  • Lower-level controls;
  • Horn, gauges, lights and backup alarms;
  • Steering and brakes.

Lift components

  • Operating and emergency controls;
  • Personal protective devices;
  • Hydraulic, air, pneumatic, fuel and electrical systems;
  • Fiberglass and other insulating components;
  • Missing or unreadable placards, warnings, or operational, instructional and control markings;
  • Mechanical fasteners and locking pins;
  • Cable and wiring harnesses;
  • Outriggers, stabilizers and other structures;
  • Loose or missing parts;
  • Guardrail systems. **

Sadly many workers are killed and injured every year while using aerial lifts like scissor lifts. With proper training and reinforcement of safety protocols by management there should be fewer and fewer such incidents. 

Scissor lifts are powerfully effective and efficient tools and are now indispensable in a multitude of settings. Familiarity with safety protocols is a small price for the advantages gained.

https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3842.pdf

** https://www.osha.gov/Publications/aerial-lifts-factsheet.html