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Region’s construction industry coping with COVID-19 restrictions

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The Harrison construction site for The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore. Photo by Bob Rozycki

“When you shut down the private side of construction, you lose a big component of the money that flows through the construction industry,” John Cooney Jr., executive director of the Construction Industry Council (CIC) of Westchester and Hudson Valley Inc., told the Business Journal.

He estimated that 30% to 40% of the volume in the industry is driven by private projects with public funding providing the majority of the activity. The entire construction industry in New York state had been deemed essential until March 27, when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a change in the rules regarding whether a business enterprise is subject to workforce reduction as part of the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The revision stated, “All nonessential construction must shut down except emergency construction, (e.g., a project necessary to protect health and safety of the occupants, or to continue a project if it would be unsafe to allow to remain undone until it is safe to shut the site).”

An exception is made for construction work or sites where there is only one worker. A self-employed carpenter, for example, could continue with his or her business as usual or if something at a private or commercial construction site needed to be done and only involved one worker.

“Essential construction may continue and includes roads, bridges, transit facilities, utilities, hospitals or health care facilities, affordable housing and homeless shelters,” the revised guidance said.

“At every site, if essential or emergency nonessential construction, this includes maintaining social distance, including for purposes of elevators/meals/entry and exit. Sites that cannot maintain distance and safety best practices must close and enforcement will be provided by the state in coordination with the city/local governments. This will include fines of up to $10,000 per violation,” the state’s new guidance said.

Cooney said his group’s members don’t take for granted that they’re still able to continue functioning, albeit in a limited way.

“We’re learning things here that can be a best practice for any kind of virus mitigation. Some of the practices that are now being put in place can remain as part of the safety protocol of job sites and our contractors,” Cooney said.

Cooney said some of the measures, such as keeping workers as far apart as possible and adding sanitizing protocols, can slow production to some degree, but the industry is  innovating. 

“I expect that the learning curve will be steep but effective,” he said. “There is more time spent implementing and putting new procedures in place to make sure we are compliant. There probably are some slowdowns occurring as we figure out how to do things.”

Cooney said during the crisis the CIC has been acting as a sounding board for questions regarding regulations. 

“We disseminate information as fast as we can get it out to our contractors, so they stay safe and know what the requirements are,” Cooney said.

He said despite the cutback in the types of projects where construction can continue, the industry is very much aware of its critical role.

“We appreciate the opportunity to be out there working on the state and local infrastructure, which is important,” he said.

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