Residential construction professionals are constantly reminded of the weather and its effects on their projects. Recent storms and flooding in Pennsylvania remind us that emergency situations can occur anywhere, and thorough preparation is vital to keep worksites safe and workers safer.
September is National Preparedness Month, and while preparing for a storm event requires some cost and effort, it is often a valuable expenditure that greatly reduces losses and is a worthwhile investment. Taking a wait-and-see approach regarding storm preparations is a gamble that can result in far greater project disruption and damage.
Most important is that all team members understand their roles and responsibilities well before a storm arrives. This is especially challenging as often there is no real guarantee that the project site will be affected by the storm. Site preparations have real and definite costs. Weather prediction is not a perfect science, and often a storm can either completely miss a project or arrive stronger than anticipated.
Building codes and engineering standards provide guidance regarding the minimum design and resistance of structures. However, designing to modern codes and standards does not guarantee that structures won’t be damaged by extreme storm events. Additionally, during construction, many structural systems may be incomplete and the structure partially erected and temporarily stored. A partially completed building with openings protected by tarps and materials stored at low levels on the construction site may be at a substantially greater risk of damage. A storm event that is well within the structure’s design tolerances may be at risk of severe damage while partially constructed. Tornado wind speeds—perhaps as high as 317 mph-- are so high that it is typically not economical to design structures for this event. Only very special structures are designed to withstand the largest tornados, such as facilities handling dangerous biological agents, aerospace facilities, nuclear power facilities, etc.
Typically, hurricane events provide the most notice. Forming far out in the Atlantic Ocean, many storms provide at least some notice, which allows the contractor time to prepare (lower crane booms, secure materials, shore up partially supported structures, etc.). A contractor can take multiple measures to protect the construction site from extreme wind events. For example, prior to construction, the company should clearly designate a person in charge who will take control during an emergency, develop a response team and a recovery team, maintain emergency phone lists, discuss action plans at weekly meetings, establish an emergency control center and monitor the weather.
Some steps taken to mitigate against natural disasters are obvious. But some might not be intuitive. For example, according to the Builder Hurricane Preparation Plan from NAHB’s Home Innovation Research Labs, all dumpsters should be either removed or emptied once an area comes under a hurricane warning. All material deliveries should be halted under a hurricane watch.
Insurance companies also have great resources for operators of construction sites facing natural disasters, including the importance of creating a relocation plan for workers should evacuation become necessary.
OSHA also recognizes the importance of worker safety and the necessity to create, implement, and follow plans of action for emergencies. The agency maintains an Emergency Preparedness and Response page that covers most types of natural and man-made disasters.
After the storm, recovery and rebuilding is often a huge undertaking. Builders Mutual has helpful tips for getting the job site back up and running, including the imperative to document everything, with paper and pictures.
As always, NAHB has numerous resources for builders, workers, HBAs, and homeowners facing a natural disaster and cleanup and recovery.
Extra work right now can help builders avoid unnecessary loss, reduce exposure to liability, keep their workers safe and ensure the job continues as quickly as possible after the incident.
For information on emergency preparedness for the homeowner, visit https://www.pabuilders.org/news/6663130