Since COVID-19 hit earlier this year, we haven’t really been able to discuss other topics. And even if we do, COVID-related procedures and measures are always part of the debate. It has disrupted all kinds of markets and has changed all different aspects of social and professional life. The civil engineering arena, which relies heavily on workers performing tasks on-site and meeting deadlines, was also considerably disrupted by COVID. On today’s show, Mark Oakeson, who has been experiencing this ‘new normal’ by himself, sits down to discuss with Isaac how the novel coronavirus has impacted construction sites, from safety protocols to disease-testing procedures.
When the virus first hit back in early March 2020, we had no clue about how bad this pandemic would be, or even if it would, in fact, achieve the frightening high records we’ve seen so far. As the disease started developing from March on, many engineering projects were put on hold not only in the USA but all around the world. This brought the field to a nearly complete halt. As we’ve gone through the summer, this fear started to slowly mitigate with all the safety procedures and standard operations provided by OSHA and the CDC. Therefore, even though things don’t yet feel under control, they are certainly more manageable now, which provides a favorable ground for engineers to safely start their projects back up, with all these new procedures in mind.
Isaac and Mark dive deep into the nuances of the disruption in the civil engineering field caused by the novel coronavirus, what the new standard procedures look like and how they play out in the field, how they handle social distancing and other COVID-related safety measures on construction sites, what happens whenever someone contracts the virus, the many different responses to the virus, and many more. Tune in to know more about how the construction arena is handling this ‘new normal’.
Mark Oakeson – [email protected]
Isaac Oakeson – [email protected]
Engineering News-Record – ENR
Duke University study – Low-Cost Measurement of Face Mask Efficacy for Filtering Expelled Droplets During Speech
ENR’s article about the study – Study Claims Popular Face Covering Could Worsen Virus Spread
CDC – Website
OSHA – Website
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CEA Show Notes
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Isaac Oakeson: Hey, what's going on everybody? I got Mark here with me. How's it going, Mark?
Mark Oakeson: Good. How are you doing?
Isaac Oakeson: We're doing good. We're going to talk about another sweet podcast episode. So, this one we wanted to -- You know, we were talking about how COVID has affected the construction industry. So, I thought this would be a fun topic to talk about and bring you on because -- Well, You are boots on the ground.
Mark Oakeson: I'm right in the middle of it. Yeah. Yeah. So, we can talk about it.
Isaac Oakeson: Let's do it. So I've got a few questions that I've got. Maybe you can help me answer them and we can talk about some articles we've researched on the topic. But, I know a lot of people are in construction, even though they're in engineering. And so there's probably a lot of, I guess, a lot of thoughts surrounding this issue. But, let's talk about it. So, in your opinion, take us to how COVID has affected the market at, like, when it started and how has it affected it now? What do you see now?
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. So, the general construction market -- So, at first, when, you know, I'd say mid March towards late March, and then first part of April of this year everybody was just kind of trying to figure out what was going on. Nobody knew -- You know, there was a lot of fear, I would say, in the market that started building because people didn't know how bad this pandemic was going too be, how it was going to impact people's lives exactly, how bad the disease was going to be if you got it, right? And so, there was a lot of fear that was kind of building, but construction --
Isaac Oakeson: Lot of unknowns.
Mark Oakeson: A lot of unknowns. But construction kind of moved along, I'll say, as normally as possible. I would say that it reached kind of a pinnacle, maybe, towards may, where developers and owners of some of the larger projects started thinking, "Oh, wait a minute . Maybe we better look at this". I know there was a few resort type projects that got put on hold. There was a couple big residential tower type projects and, of course we're here in Salt Lake City. They got put on hold just to kind of "Well, let's make sure that the market doesn't tank and things are still viable as far as residential market". We're probably like a lot of places around the United States where there's kind of a shortage of multifamily housing units. And so there's been kind of a big push in that arena or that area of construction. And so owners were kind of apprehensive, I would say, in that May time frame. And then as we've gone through the summer, the apprehension and the fear has, I would say, dissipatedquite a bit, you know? We've got a lot of people that have picked up COVID and have experienced what it's actually like and there's protocols now that we're all supposed to be following, and I think most people are, to kind of help spread the rate or help, I guess slow down the rate of spread. And so, there's all this stuff that people feel like it's not completely under control, but it's a little more manageable now. And so some of those projects are being started back up and we're rolling. I mean, I'm really busy right now.
Isaac Oakeson: Just to crank it up. Is it, would you say, pre COVID Buisiness or worse or the same?
Mark Oakeson: I would say it's back to pre COVID Buisiness. Yeah. I think we're back. And that's just my perspective, and, again, this in Salt Lake City market. The Wasatch front kind of area. Other people may be experiencing a little different things, but --
Isaac Oakeson: What state you're in. How your governor is -- You know, what rules they have on opening things up and things of that nature.
Mark Oakeson: Exactly. Exactly.
Isaac Oakeson: All that plays a role. I know for myself, I have been busier than ever at my workplace and that's just because we keep being told "doing more with less". And I swear if I hear that one more time, I might lose it. But --
Mark Oakeson: They ever throw out the lean and mean? "We're Going to stay lean and mean"
Isaac Oakeson: I haven't heard that one. It's always "more with less". And I'm curious because a lot of people are still looking for jobs too. This is kind of a side subject, butour company, where I work, has put a hiring freeze and I don't know when that's going to be turned back on. But I'm curious if your work has done the same or what have you seen?
Mark Oakeson: No, we do not have a hiring freeze. In fact, I'm looking for help right now, if anybody's interested.
Isaac Oakeson: Structural? Structural engineer.
Mark Oakeson: Yes. Yes. And, I mean, we do need some help in the officeYou know, structural engineers. Project management type personnel that have engineering backgrounds. But we also need the guys with boots on the ground. We need carpenters and laborers and those kind of guys too.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. Well, if you need a job, reach out to Mark. Yes. [email protected]
Mark Oakeson: That's right.
Isaac Oakeson: Sweet. Well, it's interesting to hear what different industries are doing with employment. Like, I'm drowning and they won't hire anybody, and other companies are hiring people. So it sounds like it's a mixed bag and arena, so. Let's talk about this then. So, it sounds like things are busy now. How has COVID actually affected the construction site with employees there or what's it like?
Mark Oakeson: So we have generally had to follow our County, our Salt Lake Countyrecommendations and mandates. And it's the typical CDC protocols that we've had to follow. And it's been tough on the guys, but you know, they've been issued. And every construction firm has, just to reduce their liability, has, as part of their safety program, issued COVID-19 protocols that everybody's supposed to follow, and they generally follow CDC guidelines, or whatever your local municipality or your local jurisdiction is dictating. They're usuallyfollowing those guidelinesas part of their safety program, you know? They want to be able to getpeople the PPE, right? The Personal Protective Equipment that they require. And so, right now it's, you know, frequently washing your hands, avoiding touching your eyes practice good respiratory etiquette, right? You're covering your coughs and your sneezes, and you're --
Isaac Oakeson: Stop picking your nose.
Mark Oakeson: Don't pick your nose.
Isaac Oakeson: Is that on there?
Mark Oakeson: No. But that's just good practice in general. You know, avoiding the close contact, you know? The six-foot rule and then the staying home if you're sick. So, everybody's got that protocol. In fact, my superintendents are having to take everybody's temperature every day. They got a little ----
Isaac Oakeson: With the thermometer?
Mark Oakeson: Thermometer, yeah. The little laser thermometers, and they're shooting them in the head with it and getting a reading. And if they're sick, they're supposed to stay home for that 14 days. They go get tested, and then if it's confirmed that they've got COVID-19, then they're going to be home for two weeks.
Isaac Oakeson: So, that sounds like a big pain.
Mark Oakeson: It is a pain. So, if you're in construction, you understand that, you know, in the contract vernacular, time is of the essence, right? And so, we're trying to meet schedule and it's just tough enough to coordinate the sequence of work that has to happen typically. And then you throw in all of this COVID-19 protocol and it just really complicates things. And so, I got guys that
Isaac Oakeson: Is that, like, built into the estimate now? I mean, is it affecting the bid of a job?
Mark Oakeson: No. It's not so much as affecting production, I would say, yet. Then we're like, considering that as we look at estimating a job. It hasn't gotten to that level yet. It's just kind of thrown in the overall safety program on a project. We have to be safe. We have to provide a safe environment for our workers to be in. And it's kind of lumped into that, those standard procedures. But in reality, it impacts things a lot becauseguys have to -- They're supposed to wear the masks. Most of them try to use those gaiter type masks --
Isaac Oakeson: Which is just the pull over?
Mark Oakeson: Just the pull over. But, you know, right now in the summer, we're hitting triple digits some of these days. It's really hot and it's tough to work with one of those on when it's hot. It's just tough. And there's a lot of job functions when you're, you know, pouring concrete, and placing rebar, and setting forms, that are strenuous activities, right? What happens when you do a strenuous activity, Isaac? What happens when you're running your 5k's, your 10k's, and a marathon.
Isaac Oakeson: You start sweating like a dog and you're breathing heavy.
Mark Oakeson: You're breathing heavy. And so, could you imagine running a 10 K with a mask on? It's just not fun. And the guys are dealing with that, you know? Trying to stay up with the protocols, but, I mean, you got to get the job done and you're breathing hard.
Isaac Oakeson: So, they're probably taking those off to get something done, I imagine.
Mark Oakeson: Yes. Sometimes that happens.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, it's good to be safe. But I guess when the job just got to get done, that's a hard spot to be in.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. It's just tough. It becomes a little impractical sometimes, I would say.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. So, talking about that -- I mean, we've touched on CDC guidelines and some of the OSHA requirements. Is there any highlights there that maybe we want to touch upon?
Mark Oakeson: Like, as far as the protocols and how that has impacted?
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I mean, is it just following CDC guidelines mainly, or the PPE affect what they can wear?
Mark Oakeson: Well, they normally haveyou know, protection. They've got the hard hats. They've got sleeved shirts that they have to wear, right? And so, really construction workers are pretty protected already. Really the only thing that it's doing is adding that mask that they didn't have to wear before. That's the big thing.
Isaac Oakeson: Got you.
Mark Oakeson: Guys that pour concrete have to wear face shieldsso that the concrete doesn't splash up into their eyes. And so they're already used to wearing some of those things. We have silica standards that we have to follow. So, when guys are grinding concrete, they have to wear respirators. So, there are some operations where they were used to wearing masks anyway. But --
Isaac Oakeson: That makes sense.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. This is just -- It's kind of complicated, because that mask is tough to wear when it's hot and you're doing, you know, strenuous activities.
Isaac Oakeson: I can imagine on a hot summer day. So that brings up another question. I mean, some of the guidelines are guarding social distancing. So, how do you do social distancing when you're constructing some things? How's that work?
Mark Oakeson: Well, I mean, the guys are directed not to eat, you know? Usually they like to eat lunch together, right? They'll find a cool spot somewhere and they'll sit down and they're eating lunch together. Now, we still allow that to happen, but they're all separated, you know, six feet. But, quite frankly, there's some operations where guys are standing close together.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. That's what I'm talking about. When you're actually building something or pouring something. How can you do this?
Mark Oakeson: My ironworkers. I mean, frequently, there's a lot of times they got to get close to each other, cause they're holding the same item, whether it's rebar or a piece of structural steel or something. They're trying to put something in a position where they need to stand close to each other and do it.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. That's another one of those hard ones.
Mark Oakeson: It's just the way it is. So there are some -- If you wanted to, you know, talk about the letter of the law, it gets violated all the time, beause nothing would get done if we had --
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I can imagine. That's why it's interesting to hear about how COVID-19 has affected the construction. What's really like on the ground, because just some of this I just find very difficult to actually do when you're actually building something. But, I want to jump into, I guess, some news articles. Let's see what they're saying. So, we have dived into a few articles. One of them was from ENR. What kind of things have we seen there about COVID and construction? Some of the stuff that's come up is studies regarding the masks and things of that nature.
Mark Oakeson: Well, you know, there was a -- This Duke University did a study. I think that's the one you're referring to, right Isaac? So, they tested your medical type masks, like your N95s, versus what most construction workers are using for face coverings, which are those fleece, kind of gaiters that go around your neck and then you pull up over your face. They're kind of a thin, fleece kind of a material. They look like -- I've used them skiing, you know --
Isaac Oakeson: That's usually where you see them.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah, yeah. And a lot of guys use them for hunting and they're nice in the winter time because it keeps your neck warm and your face when you're skiing, and I like them. Anyway, so they've been implemented as the actual face coverings for these guys. And there was a study from Duke university that basically says, they're not very good, you now? They're not like an N95 or some of these medical grade masks and coverings. And so it's kind of created a little bit of confusion as to what really needs to happen.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I imagine there's a lot of pots during regarding masks and which kind, and things of that nature. There already is. I mean, if you look at social media, everyone's got an opinion about what masks do, how they work.
Mark Oakeson: Cloth masks work or do they not? And, you know, do you have to have a medical grade, like the N95, and they even questioned those, if they really work, if they're effective. So, yeah. I mean, it's affected construction, like, I would say, every other aspect in society. It's just -- I don't know. It's just not a lot of I guess, hard science that's dictated one way or the other on some of this stuff. But we do have this Duke University study that actually tested these gaiters and they're saying they're not that great.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, and it sounds like from other articles that COVID has really affected construction, I mean, globally. Not only just where we're at, but all over the place. And so, you know, these studies that we're reading about are interesting to dive into. If anybody wants to go check them out, you can go to ENR, their magazine and their online website as well.
Mark Oakeson: Engineering News Record.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. Well, that's cool. Is there anything else about COVID and construction that would be noteworthy talk about?
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. So, I mean, let's talk about guys that have actually gotten the disease, right?
Isaac Oakeson: Sure. Yeah. What happens then?
Mark Oakeson: We've had some of that actually happened on our job sites, and I would say it's been a mixed bag. I've had guys that have actually contracted it and then we followed protocol. They were identified, they got their tests done, and then they stayed home for two weeks, right? Followinf the standard protocol. Once they got better, they were allowed to come back. And I've had guys that have told me that it's as bad as maybe having some bad allergies. Like they just say, "You know what, I felt a little under the weather for two or three days, and then I was done". And then I've had a couple of guys that said, "You know, it's probably one of the worst flus I've ever had", kind of a thing, you know? It's more of a bad flu form. But no fatalities, nothing like that. Just kind of a range ofguys that have, you know, their bodies respond different ways to the disease. Butsome, it's just been very, very mild, and others, it's hit them a little bit harder, you know? But it's just been interesting to see the range of responses, you know?
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. That's true. If somebody contracts it then and they're on the construction site, does everybody that works around them also quarantine or is it just that individual?
Mark Oakeson: They all have to get tested. Anybody who's been in proximity to that individual. You know, I've got different crews and so you can identify fairly easily who's been contacted by whatever individual, kind of proximity. And so everybody gets tested for the virus at that point.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. My workplace when it first was aroundif one person contracted it, they would -- They sent that group who, you know, whoever was around them, was sent home for quarantine. And I think now that we know more, there's been more testing and this has just been around for a lot longer, that you're getting a little more specific on just that person and things of that nature. So, it's good to know.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. But, to me, it's always just been interesting in seeing the varied reactions. It's not like, you get the disease and you know, it's going to hit you hard and you're going to be down for two weeks and it's going to be this tough battle, like a big, bad flu. I mean, sometimes people are asymptomatic too.
Isaac Oakeson: Allergies.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. It's just like, "Yeah. You know, it felt like I had some bad allergies and that was it. I was done".
Isaac Oakeson: Wow. Yeah. Then you read that it's like thousand times worse than the flu. It's like the worst thing ever. Or people that have continual symptoms even past the 14, 15 days. So, you read all kinds of things. So that's interesting. Well, I know this has definitely affected people personally. It's affected the construction world. It's interesting, just from your perspective, how it's affected things on the ground in the construction sites. And it's been definitely enlightening for me to hear about what's going on out there. So, cool. Is there anything else you want to hit on on COVID and Construction?
Mark Oakeson: COVID in construction, Just everybody stay healthy and stay happy and productive. And I mean, it's definitely a concern and we're going to get through it. But it stinks if,you know, you've got loved ones that have been seriously affected by this thing. I mean, it's a bad deal. But I think, as a whole, we're going to be able to get through this and, you know, we'll look back 10 years from now and go "Shoosh. 2020. That was a crazy year".
Isaac Oakeson: The toilet paper shortage of 2020.
Mark Oakeson: That's great.
Isaac Oakeson: Most people didn't have to go through an earthquake like we did in Utah. It was like COVID, earthquake, no toilet paper.
Mark Oakeson: Armageddon, man.
Isaac Oakeson: It was bad. Anyway. Cool. Well, thanks for jumping on again. This was a fun one to talk about and hopefully our audience able to learn a few things.
Mark Oakeson: Okay. Cool, man.
Isaac Oakeson: Alright. See you.
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