As of July 21, 2020, there were over 370,000 positive cases of COVID-19 from Florida residents and over 4,600 positive cases from non-Florida residents in the state of Florida. The construction industry across the United States has already taken a major hit, especially in residential construction, where new building permit authorizations and housing starts reached their lowest levels in half a decade. Florida, in comparison to the remainder of the United States, experienced a 15.8 percent decrease from the previous year in building permits for new residential units. Between tighter regulations and a dwindling workforce, a number of construction firms in the Sunshine State are struggling just to keep their doors open.
Among these unprecedented circumstances, Florida contractors are also faced with making preparations for an above-average Atlantic hurricane season. In fact, as of the time of this writing, Tropical Storm Gonzalo is expected to become the season’s first hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. To assist contractors, developers, and all other construction professionals with preparing for a hurricane in the midst of a global pandemic, we’ll review the steps you can take to best protect your jobsite and workers. For any assistance reviewing your company’s protocols and procedures regarding storm preparedness and response, including a hurricane safety provision, contact one of our Naples construction lawyers with Cotney Construction Law.
Review Your Plan and Create a Risk Register
Since this year’s hurricane season technically began on June 1, 2020, you should already have created and distributed a comprehensive hurricane safety plan. However, this plan may not have fully encompassed all of the risks or tasks involved in preparation for a hurricane. The process of reviewing your hurricane preparedness and safety plan with one of our Broward county contractor attorneys as new information emerges is as important as creating the document. You should sit down with your entire team as well as the owner, either physically or virtually, and review the timeline of events to safely secure your jobsite in the event of a hurricane. It is of the utmost importance that every team member realizes the gravity of the situation and is familiar with how they can help to prevent onsite accidents and property damage.
As the storm approaches, it would also be wise to document any and all potential risks on your jobsite in a risk register. This list will not only provide you with supporting documentation in the event of schedule impacts incurred as a result of the storm, but it will also increase awareness of potential damage when shared with the other stakeholders. While you can’t completely eliminate risk, this process will help you to mitigate certain risks and adequately prepare your jobsite for negative eventualities, especially during COVID-19.
Give Yourself More Time Than Usual to Secure Jobsite Materials
In the wake of a pandemic, you must always be one step ahead of the game. This includes giving yourself more time than usual to prepare your physical jobsite. Contractors no longer have the luxury of waiting until the last minute to secure anything like tools or debris that may take flight in the high winds of a hurricane because they’re working with sometimes a third of their workforce. It could end up taking twice as long, if not more, even to perform simple tasks like tying down or removing any equipment that could be thrown around by high force winds. You don’t want to add the cost of cleaning up after a fallen crane incident to your already long list of cost overruns. Other steps you should take to protect your physical jobsite include the following:
- Remove any fence screens
- Place pumps in excavations or basements to prepare for pumping excess water
- Remove all job site signage
- Take any moveable electronics to a safe location offsite
- Turn off power to the site, if possible
- Place sandbags around the perimeter
- Secure hazardous chemicals to prevent them from being released into the environment
- Board up any openings
For contractors with multiple jobsites, we encourage you to give priority to those sites located in the most populated areas. Once your site is secure, you can advise all subcontractors to leave and not return until the threat of the hurricane has passed. Be sure that cell phones or other forms of wireless communication are in place to coordinate further preparation efforts or cleanup following the hurricane. This will be a valuable step in getting back to normal on the job once the hurricane has passed. For representation in disputes that have occurred as a result of a natural disaster, don’t be afraid to reach out to a Broward county contractor attorney.
Approach Assessment of Damages with Caution
Typically, once the storm has passed and local and federal authorities have authorized you to return to the project site, it would be time to assess damage to the property and begin cleanup. However, in light of COVID-19, you need to approach this process with more caution than usual. You and your subcontractors will have been affected by a natural disaster and a global pandemic. You need to ensure the health of your team has not been compromised before you are able to go in and assess property damage and manpower costs. It could take weeks or even months to get your project staffed and running again after an event like this. This goes for material distribution as well, as distribution routes and the supply chain were potentially already impacted by the pandemic before a natural disaster damaged their facilities. Once you’re able to reenter your jobsite and assess for damages, there’s a couple of steps you can take to best protect yourself, your workers, and your site:
- Document any and all damages and prioritize the necessary repairs
- Document the scope of any emergency or temporary repairs and the reason for these repairs
- Stay clear of disaster areas where your presence may hamper first aid or rescue services
- Avoid touching loose or dangling wires
- Stay alert to potential fire hazards
- Rent a dumpster to dispose of materials damaged by the storm
- Make phone calls to employees informing them when they can return to work
Contact an Attorney
What’s important to remember about hurricanes is that they are, by law, considered a force majeure event or an uncontrollable and unforeseen act of God. Hurricanes are one of the most common types of force majeure events, along with tornadoes and wildfires. Having a force majeure provision in place in your contract can remove liability and dictate the course of action following the event. In short, it recognizes that your workers are unable to fulfill their contractual obligations in the original timespan.
At this point, if you have some type of force majeure language in your contract, you probably think that you won’t need to consult a Naples construction attorney. However, the language alone is not enough. You and the owner could end up bearing the risk of this natural disaster. To review your contracts and propose force majeure language catered to the needs of your construction business, consult one of our Naples construction attorneys as soon as possible. We’ll ensure there’s builder’s risk insurance to cover property damage, that your contract entitles you to delay-related compensation, and that your contract entitles you to recover costs associated with protecting your jobsite, materials, and equipment.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.