How Skanska refurbished an active emergency room during COVID-19


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The pandemic has forced contractors to get creative when it comes to mitigating the risks of COVID-19 on job sites. But what happens when a job site has an emergency department in operation that handles many active COVID-19 cases every day? This was the job dynamic for Skanska USA when it was in the middle of the first phase of its Brigham and Women’s Hospital Emergency Department expansion and renewal project in Boston with the outbreak spreading in early 2020. Suddenly, Skanska’s team had to determine how or if they could, Continuing to work safely to keep improvements on track, in a job that suddenly becomes more urgent. Bryan Northrop Courtesy of Skanska USA Now, after more than a year, the first phase of the project is complete, just seven weeks past its original schedule, and the project is expected to finish completely in December. Here, Construction Dive talks with Bryan Northrop, Executive Vice President of Construction Operations for Skanska USA, to see how his team is rushing to complete the mission under exceptional circumstances. Structural diving: Tell us about the project. What did Skanska do? Brian Northrop: The 69,000-square-foot project involved the expansion and refurbishment of the active Brigham and Women’s Emergency Department, which had been operating since construction began in March 2019. The first phase of expansion consisted of 25,000 square feet of space adjacent to the emergency department and 19,000 square feet of Infrastructure upgrades on the roof and throughout the facility. Phases 2 and 3 will include the demolition and remodeling of the existing 25,000-square-foot emergency department and a new entrance relocated. Disclosure: Members of Brigham’s emergency department pose for these photos. With permission from Skanska and Brigham and Women’s Hospital to complete the first phase, our team had to work next to the active emergency department and above the existing radiology department. We drilled 170 hearts into the floor, and we had to make sure that hospital operations, including CT scans and MRI machines, were not disrupted, which operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This means working according to hospital staff’s schedules, and working the nights, weekends and holidays to finish the job. When the pandemic struck, what changed? Did you have to stop working at any time? When the pandemic hit, former Mayor Marty Walsh took the decision to halt all construction work inside the city as a precaution to slow the spread of COVID-19. However, since the hospital was considered a base building, Skanska was allowed to continue construction during that time. In early March 2020, there weren’t any safety protocols put in place or put in place by the government in Skanska, so we paused for two weeks to work with COVID-19 experts for our clients to design new and safe construction work plans, which were then approved by the city and state. Disclosure: Members of Brigham’s emergency department pose for these photos. Courtesy of Skanska, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Brigham and Women.It was particularly complicated because they were treating COVID-19 patients in the emergency department next door to our work site, so we had to be especially careful to make sure we were dealing with unique concerns in that environment. What did those steps entail? To ensure everyone’s safety at work, we switched to a staggered shift schedule with roughly 25 to 30 craftsmen working at a time, while before the pandemic, we had 70 people working at one time. This change allowed our teams to operate at a safe distance, and helped ensure everyone felt confident in the protective environment we had created. This was a team-driven experience. It can only succeed if our team trusts us and feels safe coming to work every day. What checks and precautions should workers undergo while working? Skanska employees, along with Brigham employees, received daily COVID-19 checks, access to tests, and case management with Brigham Occupational Health Services. Ultimately, our employees also received COVID-19 vaccines. The inspection process was managed by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and all workers were required to self-certify prior to entering the site with a question-and-answer interview and temperature check. Once at the site, workers were required to wear masks provided by the hospital and document their attendance to adhere to contact tracing guidelines. The daily workflow on our site was only slightly affected by the revised shift schedule, and in the end the amendment to the completion schedule for Phase One was only seven weeks after the initial plan. What concerns have workers expressed regarding job site reporting that was also an active COVID-19 response facility? One of the biggest challenges our team faced was working alongside COVID-19 patients who were being treated in the hospital. The key to addressing any potential concerns has been to make sure we have our team’s trust and confidence throughout the process. This was a new experience for all of us. Since we established the policies and material safeguards we needed to ensure we continued to build safely, we made sure that we were transparent and clear about our intentions at all times. You mentioned that workers were eventually vaccinated on the job. When did that happen? In December, we began the second phase of construction after handing over the extended section of the emergency department to Brigham and the women for use. This created an additional challenge because our team members now had to travel through the operational emergency department to reach the current job site. When vaccinations became available to frontline healthcare workers, Brigham and Women’s Hospital was able to vaccinate their staff and all members of our construction team early due to the team’s proximity to the emergency department and the potential for exposure and relocation. What are the lessons learned from this job? While the pandemic certainly disrupted our regular operating system, whether on the job site or in the office, it ultimately prompted us to think more outside the box as to how to solve problems and adapt to real-time challenges. For example, on all of our work sites, we found ways to accomplish group tasks with fewer people to accommodate social distancing, and established new warm-water handwashing systems even in locations that previously did not have access to running water. This job was particularly complex as new elements were added to the equation over time, and I am extremely proud of the way our team responded to the challenge and the work we delivered towards the end of Phase One. An opportunity to raise our standards when it comes to health and safety best practices, and we plan to continue learning and growing from this experience in order to improve as a company and the construction industry in general.


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