State of the Construction Industry: June 2019 Roundup
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Deadly safety incidents and increased cybersecurity threats are in the spotlight for contractors as June comes to a close. The status of a potentially lucrative federal infrastructure deal, meanwhile, seems less and less likely to provide near-term payoffs for construction firms. Here’s a look at some of the top stories we saw in June:
Engineer Blamed for FIU Bridge Collapse; Dallas Project Suffers Deadly Crane Incident
The March 2018 collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University in Miami is being blamed on the project’s engineer. In a report by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) in June, OSHA’s Office of Engineering Services noted that cracks in the bridge that resulted in its collapse were caused by bridge design and engineering errors. The agency also said that five contractors involved in the project were aware of the cracks and should have closed the bridge to traffic while repairs were made. The bridge collapse killed six people on the street below. Six months after the incident, OSHA cited the five contractors for violations that included allowing employees to work on the bridge after cracks had been observed and failing to provide adequate fall arrest systems. Meanwhile, a crane collapse in Dallas in June put construction safety back in the spotlight. The accident left a 29-year woman dead and rendered the apartment complex project being worked on “totally unstable,” with the building owner refunding security deposits and June rental payments for expectant tenants. The incident comes less than two months after another deadly crane collapse in Seattle that left four people dead.
The Takeaway: Unfortunately, these incidents highlight an issue that is of critical concern to the construction industry: safety. As projects grow bigger and more complex, and more incidents like these occur, construction firms’ safety records are being put under a microscope. Modern technologies have made it significantly easier to ensure that all important safety steps are followed. Cloud-based project and field management software ensure safety collaboration is being achieved, all proper steps are being followed and all documentation is in place. While technologies like drones, AI and robotics are replacing human risk with automated processes. Accidents will always happen, but work can always be completed smarter and safer, reducing the number of incidents like those above.
$2 Trillion Infrastructure Deal in Flux
A deal to fund as much as $2 trillion in federal infrastructure projects across the United States appears – at the moment anyway — to be dead in the water. Initially, Democrat congressional leaders and President Trump appeared to agree on the need for and cost of an infrastructure deal, though no indication was made as to how it would be funded. Roughly a month later, that deal appeared unlikely to happen, as squabbles between Trump and Democrats on other issues like immigration have essentially rendered continued discussions to the back burner at best. Additionally, lack of support for an infrastructure agreement among Republican congressional leaders due to cost and funding concerns could also mean a tough path for approval.
The Takeaway: Though infrastructure was a huge campaign issue for both sides of the aisle, it would appear the chances of any agreement and funding happening within the next year or two are slim. This of course, could be a significant impact to contractors across the nation — especially those that rely on a certain amount of federally-funded work. The good news is there are still a number of key projects already underway or approved and slated to begin soon. Beyond that is where future work might get a little murky. Considering a potential recession looming ahead and no clear deal, many contractors are taking this opportunity to modernize their own operations, implementing the latest technologies and cloud-based construction software to help them build smarter and more efficiently — providing better avenues to compete in the near future and meet increasingly complex modern project demands.
Civic Ransomware Attacks Highlight Cybersecurity Best Practices
The Florida city of Riviera Beach is having to shell out $600,000 from its coffers as payment in a ransomware attack. City officials in June voted to pay anonymous hackers that seized the city government’s computer systems weeks prior and has held critical data and processes hostage until the city met their demands or 65 Bitcoins (roughly $600,0000). The attack succeeded because a city employee clicked on a malicious link in an email. During the shutdown, the city’s critical operations have ground to a halt, and disruptions to services like 911 have led police and fire department officials to write down 911 call information on paper. This isn’t the first incident, as ransomware attacks on city, state and even federal government agencies are on the rise. Recent high-profile cases included the attack of several of Baltimore’s municipal systems that led to a quarantine and an attack on the New York State capital Albany, which crippled the city’s police department for the entire day.
The Takeaway: Cybersecurity has been one of the top issues in the construction industry as assaults on data become more prevalent. This latest incident in Florida provides two key takeaways. First, construction companies that have a critical reliance on data and employees (or those of any company or government agency for that matter) should be consistently trained to spot cybersecurity risks. Second, these stories highlight yet another reason contractors should consider moving their operations to the cloud. Doing so means having backed-up data at your fingertips so that work can keep moving even if attacks do occur. And by deploying the latest cloud-based construction ERP software, the burden and strain on IT departments shifts to the vendors who are trained to not just spot, but protect against the latest security threats.
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