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The AEC Industry is an “Essential Service” in Massachusetts (Sort Of)

Every day is a new day with new information and new protocols as we try to deal with and work through this COVID-19 health crisis in our State. A key discussion being had right now is how and when professionals and craftspeople are considered “essential” in regards to construction projects – both public and private.

An active construction project has many interrelated players involved. A quick list might include:

  • GC/CM
  • Subcontactors
  • Vendors/ Suppliers
  • Architect
  • Engineers (civil, structural, MEP, etc.)
  • OPM’s / Owner’s Representatives

The Governor issued an order on March 23 and then a legal clarification on March 26 which illustrates that construction personnel, at least on active construction sites, are in fact “essential.” An excerpt is shown below:

“Construction Workers who support the construction, operation, inspection, and maintenance of construction sites and construction projects (including housing construction).

Workers –including contracted vendors –involved in the construction of critical or strategic infrastructure including public works construction, airport operations, water, sewer, gas, electrical, nuclear, oil refining and other critical energy services, roads and highways, public transportation, solid waste collection and removal, and internet, and telecommunications systems (including the provision of essential global, national, and local infrastructure for computing services).

Workers such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators, inspectors and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences, construction sites and projects, and needed facilities.”

I am not a lawyer and certainly am not in the government, but this statewide edict seems pretty clear in stating that both public and private construction projects are essential, and those persons actively working, supplying, or monitoring said projects have essential jobs and roles. This goes for residential construction as well as commercial or civil works – as the Order makes a point of including “housing construction.”

It would appear obvious that most or all employees of General Contractors as well as their subcontractors could be deemed essential. But what about architectural or engineering firms? This may be a little more of a grey area, depending on the role the person has and also what project or design that designer might be working on.

I would think that an architect or engineer that is continuously managing or overseeing (per Controlled Construction guidelines) an active construction site would also be “essential.” But what of the CAD designer who is doing Design Development drawings for a project that is roughly 9-12 months away from breaking ground? Or, what of the marketing or business development professional that works for an AE company?  Those are the key questions that need to be answered, and I’m sure many area firms are grappling with this legal question- in addition to their own corporate protocols and best practices.

Every other day it appears the various Federal agencies are releasing different guidelines or advisories on this topic.  One, from US Homeland Security/ CISA on March 28th, advises that some types of construction sites or buildings are NOT to be considered “essential.” CISA focuses on public works, infrastructure, and specific construction that is for medical, food distribution, and pharmaceutical uses.

Making matters more complex is the fact that several municipalities are still implementing a ban on construction work and projects within the boundaries of their own cities, regardless of the Governor’s written statements. My guess is that this may be rectified over the next two to three days.

These are challenging times, with many moving parts.  But at the surface, we should at least be glad we are working within an “essential” industry.

Ken Lambert

Author

Ken is a Director of Industry Development and Technical Services at the International Masonry Institute. Some of his writings have been featured in ARCHITECT magazine, constructiondive.com, and for U.S. Building News. He can be reached at klambert@imiweb.org.

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